Our (In)Accessible Summer

My overly active six year old daughter had an accident at a swim pool a couple of weeks ago and injured her leg. The medical team is not quite sure what her injury is. While running on the pool deck and into the water her right foot fell between the pool wall and the ladder in the deep end. Over she went with her right knee hyper extending (i.e. bending the wrong way) and slammed her lower right leg on the top rung of the ladder. She cannot walk or sustain any weight on the leg.

Currently she has a full leg brace and is mobile in a wheel chair. For the first two days my husband moved all sixty-three pounds of her from the bed to the couch, to the toilet and back again. Up and down our narrow, steep old house stairs. Not ideal. So once we had the wheel chair we started really seeing our home and city in a different light.

As a massage therapist I am familiar with injuries and disabilities. As an attendant, many years ago, for a quadriplegic woman I saw the challenges of navigating around a world not highly accessible. I remember those daily challenges, triumphs and disappointments.

Many years have passed since then and one expects that improvements have been made in the various environments disabled persons must move themselves through from day-to-day. So now I find myself contending with the world’s accessibility once again, this time it is a little person in the chair who is bursting with energy.

Ironically, given the cause of her injury, the best thing for her has been the swimming pool (sure a little massage but she is still apprehensive about being touched on that leg). She does not have to wear her brace in the water and she has been moving the leg a little more each day.

Of the public pools we have visited we like Trinity Bellwood’s indoor pool due to the chair assist that can help disabled persons into and out of the pool. I wish the automatic door buttons worked though. There was only one of three that were operational. The staff are easy going and helpful which makes a difference.

We have been enjoying the Regent Park Pool and it’s amenities. No chair lift here, but the pool is equipped with  ramps that run right down into the water. On our second visit they offered a water wheel chair so we were able to wheel our daughter down the ramp right into the water – so much better than physically lifting her wet squirmy body in and out of the pool. The chair was tricky to push as the weight has to be pushed down on the  back of the chair even in water. Not yet a perfect design. The disabled change rooms were hard to get as they are the largest and usually occupied by the able-bodied or by parents with strollers. There are so many swimmers and the pool area is large and loud, it is sometimes not easy to communicate with the guards. It is a large, lovely pool with lots of fun amenities such as a tarzan rope, diving board, water slide, and even a hot tub.

We tried the Christie Pits Pool (aka Alex Duff Memorial Pool) but the line up to get in was too long and the main pool was closed that day. I know they are accessible as we have seen all the ramps having swam there as able bodied people many times.

The West End YMCA has a small pool but is very familiar to us as this is where the kids have their weekly swimming lessons. We took the elevator from the lobby to the pool level and into the family change room we do not normally use (they have two). The change rooms were very small and no room for the chair. The pool has an electric chair lift, much slower than Trinity Bellwood’s and the water was c-c-cold! That’s no news to us. The shower for disabled persons was in a small stall and my daughter had much trouble pushing the knob to get more water. Also I could not see her in the stall unless I stood outside with the door open and unable to shower myself. The staff have been nothing but encouraging and friendly for rehab with her which is very helpful.

We also visited Artillery Park Pool while visiting my family in Kingston, Ontario. I loved this pool, which uses a saltwater sanitizing system rather than just chlorine. They too had a ramp into the water but there did not appear to be any water wheel chairs. We liked the wide halls and spacious changing rooms that made it easy to move the chair around. All the automatic doors worked but the disabled shower stall had a broken shower head and I had to do a bit of improvisation with this to aim a stream of water at my daughter while she sat on the shower bench. She did not enjoy this and refused my attempt to rinse her off.

Thanks to the City of Toronto Parks and Recreation Program all the pools were free of charge (Artillery Park Pool in Kingston was not, however).

Other things I have been noticing in the city in regards to (in)accessibility:

  • rough or uneven sidewalk ramps, and still many sidewalk curbs without ramps
  • very few store front ramps which makes daily errands difficult
  • parking and getting wheel chair out and loaded issues
  • movie theaters have wheelchair spots, but they are very few

Also, at the risk of nit-picking, why are pediatric wheel chair handles so darned low? We cannot raise ours so we spend a lot of time hunched over the chair, stressing our backs pushing her when we need to be moving quickly. Sometimes I get my 8 year old son to do the pushing. That was a good idea until he thought it would be fun to run, push her hard and let go allowing the wheel chair to almost veer off the sidewalk into on coming traffic on our street. That was not so helpful.

To date we have been only using the car but I am feeling the need to get back to using the TTC. Parking and gas are expensive, driving in the packed city takes a long time and it only adds to the smog. I like traveling quickly underground and popping up at various convenient locations.

Next weekend Shaun the Sheep Movie will be released. I have already planned on us taking the subway from Bloor and Lansdowne. Actually I guess that will be Bloor and Dufferin since Lansdowne is not accessible…

Written by
Sue Sheedy R.TCMP, R.Ac, RMT
Sue is the director and founder of Toronto Bodyworks. She strives for fairness and hopes for the best integrity in all people, places and things.

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