Canadian society is still far from accessible

Disability justice is a systemic and individual issue

wheelchair symbol at subway station
We still have a long way to go until society is accessible for everyone.

By: Olivia Visser, Opinions Editor

Able-bodied people often make their way through the world without worrying about accessibility barriers. They have less reason to be concerned about finding a seat by the door or catching COVID-19, nor do they have to face the reality of being forced into systemic poverty due to chronic illness. Canada likes to pride itself in being a relatively equitable country, yet many have no idea that our society is still far from accessible for disabled people.

Canadian city design is the most apparent example of inaccessibility. When I make my way around Vancouver, I notice a striking lack of benches for blocks on end. Other issues like dangerous sidewalk conditions and few crosswalks are prevalent in certain areas. Some of the most significant accessibility barriers in Canada are related to transportation. Many bus stops have no seating options at all, and SkyTrain stations only have a couple seats that are often occupied. What are disabled people supposed to do in situations like these? Multiple times I’ve had to sit on the ground awaiting the train because my body didn’t have the energy to stand that day. Factors like uncomfortable seating, limited disabled seats, and a lack of paratransit options are only a few limitations affecting the daily lives of disabled Canadians. 

The attitudes of fellow citizens also have an impact on accessibility. You can’t tell someone’s accessibility needs by looking at them, especially when many are too nervous to ask for a seat on their own. It definitely helps when people stand if they’re able to, and watch out for those who might need a disabled seat. Other behaviours, like kicking the automatic door buttons or using disabled stalls without needing them, can make life more difficult for those with accessibility needs. Some people rely entirely on door access buttons to enter spaces — the least we can do is keep them clean for everyone. 

The Canadian government doesn’t do enough to provide for its disabled population. BC’s Person with Disabilities (PWD) program offers income assistance to anyone with a disability that affects their ability to work and perform daily-living activities. However, this system sucks disabled people into lives of poverty by granting beneficiaries only $1,358 a month. This number allocates $375 a month for shelter, which is incomprehensible in a city like Vancouver with an average monthly rental price of around $2,000. No one should live in need because their health makes them unable to acquire or hold down a job. Raising PWD amounts is a huge step forward that our government should take immediately.

Disabled people deserve to actively participate in society like everyone else. Unfortunately, Canada still has some improvement to do in terms of creating equal opportunities for disabled people. And while disability justice is a systemic issue, everyone can do their part to ensure disabled people are included and treated fairly in our society.