– By Biraj Jha –
Accessibility is a human right. Is the St. James Town community failing or passing on making the area as accessible as possible to people who need it?
St. James Town is a diverse and multi-faceted community located in the heart of Toronto, bordering Sherbourne Street to the west, Bloor Street East to the north, Parliament Street to the east and Wellesley Street East to the south. The community is made up of more than 18,000 residents and is comprised of many high-rises built in the 1960s. Many of the residents that live in St. James Town are senior citizens and require mobility devices and other supports to live, work and play independently.
The St. James Town community is severely lacking in the supports needed to make it a truly accessible community. For example, certain residential buildings like 240 Wellesley may have a ramp but there is no automatic door push button at the entrance for people with mobility issues to enter or leave. Therefore, people with disabilities have a challenging time entering or exiting without any help. This is especially challenging early in the morning or late during nighttime when people leave and return home. To fix this problem, we need to add automatic door push buttons in 240 Wellesley and other buildings that don’t have them to make St. James Town more inclusive.
Sidewalks in St. James Town are awful for people with disabilities, especially wheelchair and mobility scooter users. Steep ramps, broken or missing ramps, cracked and bumpy sidewalks all contribute to giving people who use wheelchairs and scooters a challenging time traveling in and around St. James Town.
In the words of one wheelchair user: “People with disabilities are people too. We do not stay at home all day, we go outside for shopping, sightseeing, work and traveling as well. The sidewalk in St. James Town is a nightmare for me. I have fallen countless times off my wheelchair because of how steep the ramps are – especially during winter.”
Everyone who lives in St. James Town has to deal with snow and ice. People with disabilities, on the other hand, have it far worse. This is especially true for people with disabilities who do not have access to a vehicle and must rely on sidewalks and other pedestrian pathways to get to work, shop, or leave their homes for any purpose during the winter. Therefore, we need to make ramps less steep, and fix broken, missing, and uneven sidewalks. Construction workers need to ensure wheelchair and scooter users have a pathway to travel by when construction is blocking the sidewalk and have more proactive sidewalk clearing efforts during wintertime.
We need to have more outlets where people with disabilities can come and have their voices heard. Even with areas that are accessibility friendly, improvements can be made. Big and small upgrades can lead to a more accessible St. James Town.
Biraj Jha is a youth journalist with the Focus Media Arts Centre – a partner of The Corner.