Accessibility at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games

ParaPan Am 2015 logo

I decided to go to the Pan Am gymnastics competition. I know it was just the first day of the Games but that is not a good excuse for the type of problems I saw.  Already there’s been several instances of accessibility issues during the games during the opening ceremony or other events. Regardless of whether these are Pan Am or Parapan Am Games they should be accessible to everyone.

My trip started out with a special one hour early drop-off ride arranged with Pan Am para-transportation which is really Wheeltrans bus just a more refined and sophisticated way of putting it in order to make the city looks good. Too bad the Game organizers and security could not demonstrate this respect to the Wheeltrans driver and customers. The Wheeltrans driver was great and was even wearing a patriotic red t-shirt in sportsmanship spirit. When we arrived at the CNE the driver spent at least forty-five minutes trying to get his customers to the entrance of the Toronto Coliseum, where the gymnastics event was taking place, because security was not allowing a bus, no matter if Wheeltrans was written on the bus, to pass through the gates. Finally one security official got on the bus herself to let us through. I thought finally the right person came along, however, her intention was just to let us off at the gates which was a good twenty minute walk to the Coliseum as we had to pass through “security” first. The story gets more intriguing now.

I reached the security gate with my sister who is ambulatory.  There were actually three security guards on hand who checked my sister’s handbag and frisked her over while ignoring me and my wheelchair! For all they knew, I or my sister or the person beside me could have slipped drugs, explosives, or a gun in my wheelchair pocket. It would have been a terrorist’s dream come true! It is not as if this country has not been subjected to terrorism and violence before! Three security personnel were just standing there when one of them could have been easily been transferred to the Coliseum and done his/her job checking me there, the proper location where Wheeltrans wanted to drop me off.  This story does not even end there once again!

Travelling by wheelchair from the security post to the Coliseum was an obstacle course in itself.  It was a long ten minute walk but even longer than that with a wheelchair.  The road to get to the Coliseum was covered with speed bumps.  Just who were the Games organizers trying to slow down? Wheelchair users? Not to mention that these speed bumps were extremely hazardous for disabled people’s safety and their assistive devices.  So let’s see, so far we have: 1) event planners preventing Wheeltrans from doing its job;  2) security officials easily creating a potential terrorism scandal; 3) event  planners setting themselves up for a great lawsuit; and the list goes on!

Finally we reached the Coliseum, at least fifteen minutes late of course. We get to our seats which of course were on the upper level. I was told by “accessible seating services “ no less that the upper level was the only accessible seating area despite the fact that I told them I also have a visual impairment.  Nevertheless I was assured the view of the floor events would be clear. The fact that the view from a wheelchair was partially blocked because of a guard rail in front of that row of seats was never mentioned.  I had to strain my neck in order to see properly.  I tried to look at the jumbo video screen to my right which was the closest one to me but it was blocked by the flags of the countries hovering over it. My ten year-old nephew could have arranged a better set-up.

Another obvious obstacle concerned the snack bar right behind the wheelchair accessible row. The bar counter was only accessible to people who could stand. The counter did not have any lower section to allow wheelchair users to be served individually.

Upon leaving the Games security officials made a big show of concern as to why my pick-up ride was late arriving to the designated pickup spot, even calling the PanAm para-transportation centre themselves.  When the driver did get to us he said that it took him twenty minutes to reach us because security wouldn’t let him through to the designated pickup spot.  I could have laughed had the situation not have been so pathetic.

I suppose the fourth conclusion I could make about the Games is that they are at best marginally accessible to people with disabilities thus far. I could ask for a ticket refund of some sort but I feel my complaints will be waived aside. That kind of response would be shameful of course coming from a rich North American city in a rich country trying to impress its citizens and the world.

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