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Lucy Greco

  Accessibility in Education


On Accessible Transport: Calgary versus California

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Lucy Greco, a native of Canada and now a web accessibility expert at UC Berkeley, California, writes about her decades-long experience accessing the public transportation system in the United States in comparison to her hometown in Canada.

Part 1

In the summer of 1995, my husband Mike and I moved to California from western Canada for work opportunities. When we first moved here, we only expected to stay for five years at most. However, almost 18 years later, we are still here with no plans to move back to Canada in the near future. During a recent trip to Calgary – a city in the province of Alberta – to visit family, I realized that if and when we do move ‘home,’ it’s going to be very difficult to transition to that lifestyle. Why? Simply because California offers a great deal to me that is not currently available in Calgary (and probably other parts of the country).

Calgary's transit system

Image: Calgary's Transit System

During the time I have been in California, I have been an active part of the advocacy community.  For the first few years this was because we were still on my husband Mike’s work visa and I had no ability to work. However, once we got our green cards, I realized that advocacy was a very important part of my life. I have been involved in several advocacy movements and I am very proud of all of them. Over the years I have worked on issues such as point-of-sale machines in grocery stores, accessible credit reports and access to education, and improving services for people with disabilities. I have served on a great deal of boards, such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit accessibility advisory panel and related commissions. I was an active member of the California Council of the Blind and have participated in many efforts to improve access for guide dog users.

During my recent trip home to Calgary, I was greatly disappointed to see how accessibility has improved very little in the last 18 years. At least in the realm of public accommodation, not much is going on in Calgary at the level seen in California’s Bay Area. The biggest disappointment to me was in transportation. When I walked onto the light rail transit platforms, I was dismayed to notice that even though all the platforms are being extended and renovated, not a single platform has a detectable edge strip. In one station I went to on the perimeter, wheelchair users still have to go through circuitous routes to get to the platform.

On the platforms, signage for the next trains was rarely verbalized. I remember the day my brother went to work shortly after the flooding and called home because he was having difficulties because the train announcements were not working at all. It seems to me that if the trains were able to be up and running again after the floods, one of the things that should have been included in the testing was the announcement system for people who could not read the signs. Whenever I took the light rail, I was appalled to see that the train doors still required a passenger to push a button to open and close the doors.

After several years, the Calgary light rail system still has an obnoxious pole in the middle of every doorway that blocks a wheelchair user from getting in and out of the train or causes a blind person to bump into it.  When I was a teen graduating high school I remember falling between the train cars on the light rail system.  To this day I do not see any barriers placed on that large gap between each car.  The Calgary transit system doesn't seem to adequately consider the people who are blind and visually impaired, wheelchair users and other people with physical disabilities use the system on a daily basis. Can you start addressing their needs?

In Part 2, I will speak about the positive steps that Canada has taken towards inclusion.


Related Resources

Blog: Digital Media Outcasts: Emergency Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities | Read Robert Pearson's Blog.

Publication: Leading Practices on Disability Inclusion | Download the Report.

Event: DRT4ALL 2013: 5th International Congress on Design, Research Networks, and Technology for All | September 23-25, 2013 at Madrid, Spain | View Event Details.