Monday, July 23, 2012

We Demand the Right to Pee

I am a wheelchair user who, for years, has taken the train to Toronto to visit, be a tourist, etc. I used to always get GREAT customer service from the employees on the train and in Union Station.

Now Union Station has been sold to the City of Toronto and the Wheelchair Accessible washrooms, I once was able to use, are gone.

The Via One Lounge that had one of the accessible washrooms used to be on the Via Departures level. It was closed in January or February of this year and moved upstairs to ground level. The other accessible washroom that used to exist, was at the base of the ramp to the departures level and it closed ages ago. No thought was given to the fact that a person using a manual wheelchair who has come off GO Transit or the TTC, has no hope of ever wheeling up that ramp to the main level unaided. They also didn't build an accessible washroom in the new Via One lounge. Attempts were made to make it accessible, I guess, because the stalls are a little bigger, but that's about the extent of the accessibility features that are built into it.

Ramp to Departures level of Via Rail.
Click for credit to image source
The grab bars are placed in a way that does not meet current building code, the toilet paper dispenser location does not meet code, the soap dispensers that are reachable are never filled; instead a different dispenser was added and it was placed further back on the wall, making it almost impossible to reach by a person who is seated in a wheelchair. On top of that, the door to enter the washroom has a very heavy hinge on it and no power door opener. It is now impossible to open independently if ones disability hampers their upper body strength. Even the fire Code stipulates a door should not be that heavy, but for some reason it is. Worse, the new design has passed the building inspector. Where is the oversight?

With Ontario having the Accessibility for Ontarian's With Disabilities Act, the Human Rights Code, the Customer Service Law, and new Integrated Accessibility Standard, you would think that more thought would have gone into this.  Society knows that people with disabilities must be accommodated, so I don't get why this new barrier was allowed to happen.

Last week (July 2012), when I was back at Union Station after first encountering and reporting this barrier in February and being assured it would be fixed right away, I found that nothing had changed. When I asked for help to enter the washroom, no one had time to help me.  It took over 30 minutes to find someone to help. She was an Angel - a Red Cap whose job is NOT to look after people in the Via One lounge. She just happened to have a heart and was agreeable to help. The appropriate accolades have been sent to her boss.

Prior to finally getting her help, I had to endure the indignities of being advised the following by a three separate employees:
  • use the washroom on the main floor of Union Station. It has a sink in the stall that blocks a big chair from entering,
  • use the toilet at the GO Concourse level. It has a steep ramp (shown in the image below) that can't be navigated by a person using a manual wheelchair, especially if they have low upper body strength and normally use an electric wheelchair,
  • Photo showing ramp from Via Rail level to Go Concourse level
    Ramp at bottom of Via Rail to GO Concourse level.
  • bring along a helper the next time so they can open the washroom door.   Huh? At whose expense?
Why on earth should the disabled be expected to pay the added costs of taking along a helper when they generally are able to live and remain fully independent?  It was Union Station who goofed and took away the accessible washrooms.  The suggestion that people with disabilities must give up their independence because of their mistake, is ridiculous.

This issue has been raised with Via Rail customer service a few times. Their response was that the responsibility for the design of Union Station lies with the City of Toronto. I tried to contact the appropriate person with the City of Toronto and so far it has been to no avail. Besides, it's not my responsibility to be chasing people down.

Union Station serves GO Transit, Via Rail, the TTC and several other major rail providers so I'm sure there is at least one contact person for the City of Toronto,who all these companies go to with their lists of specifications of what's needed to meet their needs, while the renovations are being done. Via Rail has the ability to correct things. They've just chosen not to.

If I had the guts, I'd pee on the floor in front of them, but thankfully for them I was brought up to be more civilized than that. 

This stalemate MUST be broken and the accessible washroom must be restored immediately at Union Station.

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