All Dressed Up & Nowhere to Go

What I need to go outside my immediate neighborhood, I call WheelTrans. WheelTrans is Toronto's paratransit service, run by the TTC (our public transportation system) and it is designed to provide transportation for people with disabilities who can't use public transit so they can participate in the community on an equal basis with everyone else. Because once you, as a society, designate certain groups as equal, this equality must be supported by programs and policies that remove barriers to equal participation.

These days, I am grateful that most of what I need is available in my immediate neighborhood, because WheelTrans has become a joke. Getting through to the reservations department is next to impossible and wait times for your ride are ridiculous. I'm not talking about 10-15 minutes late. I'm talking regularly waiting anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and sometimes more. For a 15min trip. Both ways. But wait times are not my primary sujet de rantinage (I have no idea if that's really the French version of "rant subject", but as I have no compunction in inventing new English words, why not diversify?). Snow is. Because the other day when I called to book WheelTrans for a trip outside my immediate neighborhood, the automated voice announced that there was a forecast of a "major snowfall" and WheelTrans therefore encouraged you to only continue with booking the ride if you were going somewhere essential, like dialysis. When I got up, I checked the forecast and the major snowfall? 5-10 cm. Which for the metrically challenge out there is 2-4 inches.

In the early 90s, I worked in an office… well, that is until Mike Harris got elected on a pack of lies and repealed The Employment Equity Act at which moment I, along with a vast number of other people with disabilities, more or less instantly lost their jobs, as employers were no longer under legal mandate to have their workforce represent the demographics in the community. Of course, Mr. Harris had promised us that as opposed to women, racial minorities and aboriginal people, people with disabilities actually really were discriminated against out there - I guess the un/underemployment rate of 50-85% was harder to ignore than statistics for the other groups - and he would promptly develop an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as well as increasing funding to the Ontario Human Rights Commission to make up for taking away the Employment Equity Act. Then he cut funding for the Ontario Human Rights Commission and eight years later, released an Ontarians with Disabilities Act that was completely toothless. Sure, Mike. You really cared. Me? Bitter? Whatever gave you that idea?

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes... I worked in an office and during the winter, I went to work unless they forecast a major snowfall. Only if the forecast were 20 cm and over, would WheelTrans request that its customers to please consider staying home, unless you were going somewhere vitally important (like dialysis). Which was reasonable, because many other people who could, would make the same choice.

And now, a little over a decade later, if the forecast is 5-10 cm, they grind to halt. I have no idea what's happened for the service to deteriorate like it has and it's not my job to fix it. It is my job to point out that shutting down the paratransit service because it snows in a city that sees an average winter snowfall of 133 cm (52 inches) means that this is no longer a paratransit service. Because if you can only go past your immediate neighbourhood when the weather is nice, there is no longer any equality.

Aside from setting new standards for what constitutes a "major snowfall" as being a completely ridiculous smattering being positively un-Canadian, the rest of the city doesn't grind to a halt at those levels of accumulation. Therefore, WheelTrans, designed to remove barriers to equal participation in e.g., employment, has now erected a barrier, because I don't know any employer who would tolerate staff not coming to work once or twice a week for months at a time. And if employers know this, why would they hire you? Or if they did hire you, would they keep you instead of letting you go in favour of somebody who could get to work?

It's hard enough to get a job as a disabled person. There are barriers to education that makes it likely that as a person with a disability, you're going to be undereducated, but even if you have the skills for a job, with no legal requirement to hire, employers stay away. Because with employees with disabilities comes requirements for accessibility and accommodation of disability, like assistants who can do certain physical aspects of the job that are not "essential requirements" (like filing in a management job), attendants to provide bathroom assists and help at meal times, funding for private paratransit trips instead of mileage for off-site job related activities, etc., etc. But if you somehow manage to get yourself a job despite all that, here comes WheelTrans and tells you that if there's a bit of snow on the ground, they won't take you to work.

I'm starting to think that unemployment rate may exceed 85%...