Accessible Vancouver? Navigating the city with a stroller.

On May 24th, I gave birth to my second son. He arrived early, like my first son, and since his arrival I have been adjusting to life as a mom of two kids. My sons are 6 years apart, and while this is a bit bigger of a gap than we had initially hoped for (welcome to the world of things not actually entirely being in my control…), it has thus far been (mostly) exhausting overwhelming full of self doubt fabulous. Barring the fact that I have no idea how women with two children close in age manage to do anything at all, I’ve been thrown right back into the world of babies. What was I thinking, dear lord, my husband and I could go on dates again! OVERNIGHT DATES!! My point is here is that after 5+ years with no diapers, no stroller, etc., I am back in the thick of it.

A little while ago, I took the boys and my friend’s wonderful children to the Monet exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and for a little lunch time walk about in the sunshine. What I was so quickly reminded of was how hard it is to do anything with a stroller.

Now, I cannot possibly imagine what life is like being reliant on a mobility device to negotiate the world. I think, though, that having to do it with a stroller gives me a tiny window into that experience. Vancouver, we need to do better.

It took the kids and I at least 15 minutes of wandering around to finally figure out how to access one of the many lovely parks and food courts on the waterfront by elevator. If I hadn’t promised them we could go to a certain hamburger joint, I would have abandoned ship pretty quickly. Once we asked no fewer than four people how to get into a lovely space we could see from all sides, but had no obvious accessible entrance, we were directed to a back hallway where the accessible elevator was located beyond the service one. The elevator had no obvious indication which level would lead us to the food court in the adjacent building, so after two false starts, we found it. After winding our way through service corridors,w e eventually exited into the food court.

Success.

The bathrooms in the food court, however, were not accessible, which made changing my baby challenging to say the least. When I got home, I was totally furious.

In the first draft of this piece, I described Vancouver’s accessibility as “awful” and “outrageous.” I did a bit of online searching and it turns out Vancouver is actually lauded for its excellence in accessibility, which makes my stomach turn with dismay at what cities that are critiqued for a lack of accessibility must look like.

Where I think Vancouver does truly fail, is in its lack of signage and in its inconsistencies. We were able to easily access transit, except that a number of stations on our journey were no longer accessible because of elevator repairs, which we only realized once we tried to use the elevator. In a number of buildings, we were able to eventually find accessible entrances, only to learn they had no automatic doors. At one point, I resorted to lifting my stroller and carrying it up four steps that were partway through the “accessible” path I had been directed to, which is clearly not an option for anyone with true mobility issues.  There were no obviously signed accessible bathrooms in the food court we eventually accessed.

I cannot fathom how frustrating this must be for folks who bump up against these barriers every day. If we want to have a city that truly embraces diversity, then we need to do better in this arena: shouldn’t every building be one that can be accessed by everyone?

While we wait for cities to improve, I’d love to hear about your favourite, accessible, downtown excursions.

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