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Canada Amplify: How a stroller opened my eyes to inaccessibility in my city

Amplify: How a stroller opened my eyes to inaccessibility in my city

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As an able-bodied, fairly active person, I’ve always found my way around by walking, cycling, taking the subway, hailing an Uber or driving, with few obstacles in my path.

Turns out all it took was a stroller to open my eyes to the hurdles that many people face every day. As I ventured out the first few times with my newborn daughter in the fall of 2016, I began to see my west-end Toronto neighbourhood differently. When I tried to meet a friend at a trendy local coffee shop I had been to dozens of times before, I noticed for the first time that it had a sizable step in the entryway and a heavy door that I would have had to pull toward myself and my baby. Overwhelmed, I turned around and asked my friend to meet me at the Starbucks down the street, where I was relieved to find a ramp, automatic door-opener and plenty of room to manoeuvre my stroller inside (not to mention an accessible washroom and a change table to boot).

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I’m Claire Neary, a senior business editor at The Globe, and my maternity leave was filled with similar, revealing moments. My stroller was a no-go on the old streetcars nearby, I found buses awkward and intimidating and my closest subway station had an elevator still under construction and a terrifyingly narrow escalator. I occasionally braved these modes of transportation with my daughter tucked into a baby carrier, but she often screamed so much as I tried to strap her in that I gave up entirely. My world got a whole lot smaller. (Ultimately, though, I was lucky to be able to use my car when I really needed to get somewhere beyond walking distance – though my daughter tended to scream there too).

Winter was a different story. In Toronto, home and business owners are required to clear snow and ice in front of their properties, but as anyone who lives here knows, many don’t. Unable to push my stroller through snowbanks and too scared of falling to use the carrier, there were many days my daughter and I were housebound.

But I was privileged and had the luxury to stay home on particularly nasty days, knowing that my husband could grab us groceries and there would always be another baby class at the library.

That privilege hit home last month when I read about the tragic story of 22-year-old Malaysia Goodson, who fell to her death on a Manhattan subway platform while carrying her one-year-old daughter down a flight of stairs in her stroller. The station, like many in New York and Toronto, had no elevator.

Ms. Goodson’s daughter, Rhylee, was the light of her life, her cousin, Ronshuana Anthony, told the New York Times.

As Alia Wong wrote in the Atlantic, in a piece called “Cities aren’t built for parents,” Ms. Goodson’s death sparked outrage and “drew attention to a problem disability-rights advocates from New York to San Francisco have fought for years to little avail: The country’s public-transportation systems provide few accommodations for those who struggle to navigate the city in which they reside, for whatever reason.”

Ms. Wong cites New York University transportation scholar Sarah Kaufman, who “suspects that a lack of accessibility may be partially a result of demographic imbalances among those in charge of designing public transit and other public-infrastructure projects. Women make up only 20 per cent of licensed architects, and an even smaller portion of partners and principals at architecture firms, Allison Arieff wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed.”

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“Without a true consideration of how caregivers need to travel and the accommodations that should be warranted to them, cities cannot serve the needs of their populations,” Ms. Kaufman said.

Earlier this month, Ali Imrie, a student at York University’s Osgoode Law School who uses a wheelchair, made headlines when she tweeted a video of a friend attempting the near-impossible task of pushing her down a snowy campus path in Toronto.

“This is how I had to get to and from class @OsgoodeNews today. I’m so, so tired. I’ve emailed everyone I can email, met with everyone I can meet with, and nothing happens. I just want to be able to go to school. #AODAfail,” she tweeted, referencing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which commits to “developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. . . on or before January 1, 2025.” But I question whether that deadline is realistic.

My mother-in-law, Thérèse, has been living with multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years. She sometimes uses a walker or an electric scooter and has trouble on steep staircases. I never noticed how many Toronto restaurants have basement washrooms until we looked for places we could all go for dinner.

As Thérèse’s daily challenges remind us – as well as Ms. Imrie’s video and the heartbreaking death of Ms. Goodson – we still have a long way to go.

What else we’re reading:

In “You know the Lorena Bobbitt story. But not all of it,” New York Times writer Amy Chozick profiles Lorena Bobbitt more than 25 years after she became famous for cutting off her husband’s penis. At her trial, Ms. Bobbitt described suffering domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, who raped her the night of the incident. Most people forget, however, that a jury found her not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, she says. Ms. Bobbitt relates to other women engulfed in scandals in the 1990s, such as Tonya Harding and Monica Lewinsky, writes Ms. Chozick. “We were vilified by the media, vilified and that is so sad. It happens to women,” she said. “I’ll put myself through the jokes and everything as long as I can shine a light on domestic violence and sexual assault and marital rape.” Maybe, she figured, her story could finally get equal billing to John’s penis, Ms. Chozick writes.

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Pivoting to a more recent scandal, my colleague Elizabeth Renzetti, with her signature style and wit, points out the Liberal government’s hypocrisy in its treatment of Jody Wilson-Raybould in her recent column. “This government, which branded itself as women’s champions – I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they’re feminists – made a colossal error in hanging out to dry the first Indigenous woman to be named justice minister," she writes. ". . . It’s one thing for a government to treat a female cabinet minister shabbily; it’s quite another when the government has hung its entire brand – national and global – on the twin hooks of fairness and feminism. Live by the f-word, die by the f-word.”

Inspired by something in this newsletter? If so, we hope you’ll amplify it by passing it on. And if there’s something we should know, or feedback you’d like to share, send us an e-mail at amplify@globeandmail.com.

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If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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