Accessibility experiences in Canada
After travelling across Canada from coast to coast in winter in the 1970s, I felt the need to return and experience another season. The autumn, known as
fall in Canada, was an opportunity to see the leaves changing into vibrant colours. This time my trip would be very different, because I would be using a mobility scooter.
When I was planning the trip, I saw a car rental website where vehicles, including motor homes, were available for hire by persons with all kinds of assistance needs. I had high expectations about accessibility in Canada and was interested to see and learn more.
An accessible sea wall walk
In Vancouver, there was an accessible SkyTrain that operated between the airport and the city. There was also a fabulous 9km Seawall Walk, with both a bicycle lane and separate walking path. It was level, easy, and scattered with beautiful red maple trees.
On the harbour, I saw the new Vancouver Float Plane Terminal. It looked as if at least 20 seaplanes could be at the terminal at once, with a bank of glass elevators (lifts) leading down to solid floating walkways and access to the planes. Though I do not know what options there were for the final four steps into the plane.
After Vancouver, we flew east. The old walled Quebec City with its cobblestoned streets was not as difficult as I had imagined. There were accessible footpaths and for traversing the cliff there was a funicular cable railway, with a dedicated wheelchair elevator right to its entry door.
The underground city
We arrived in Montreal by train from Quebec City, where the underground platform only had an escalator to the station and city above. That was the start of learning that a lot of the underground city in Montreal is not wheelchair accessible.
The underground city fascinated me. It is a 33km pedestrian walkway, two to three levels below ground, connecting metro stations, shopping centres and office buildings. I spent some time trying to get down and up again, but there were only a few places with an elevator, with most access being via stairs or escalators.
When I asked at the tourist office in Montreal about accessibility, the attendant very proudly handed me a tourist brochure titled The Accessible Road. Published by a non-profit organisation called Kéroul, the aim of this brochure is
to make tourism and culture accessible to people with restricted physical abilities. The Accessible Road initiative received the 2011 Ulysses Award for Innovation in Non-Governmental Organisations from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and lists more than 1,000 establishments rated according to Kéroul's accessibility criteria.
The booklet also contains useful tips on transportation, noting the eight accessible metro stations. In hindsight, things would have been easier if I had read the brochure before heading underground. The Accessible Road publication also mentions the upcoming International Summit in Montreal in 2014, called Destinations for All. This summit will look at developing common strategies at an international level for accessibility in tourism, culture and transport.
For a closer look at Kéroul's work with accessibility in Canadian tourism, visit www.theaccessibleroad.com. For more information about the
Destinations for All Global Summit, visit www.keroul.qc.ca/en/.