I’m back home after an awesome three week holiday to Canada with my parents, west coast Vancouver right over to the eastern cities. That country is BIG, but has an impressively consistent practical courtesy and equipped infrastructure throughout, which just makes everything easier when travelling in a wheelchair.
There are disabled toilets (including public sharps bins) everywhere, and not down a separate corridor to the others (only located following a frenzied search with my bladder ready to spill) but within a cubicle alongside the rest. Restaurants and bars followed the same trend, disabled parking was always available, electric ramps on buses, automatic doors and dropped kerbs at road crossings (and pedestrians seem to always have right of way). Even the boat trip into Niagara Falls was a roll on process, and I got soaked along with everyone else. Most impressive were the natural hot springs at Banff in the Rockies: after transferring to the water wheelchair, you could then roll from the changing rooms straight into the pool. Having got in however, 38°C water proved far too warm and turned me to jelly, I scarily lost control of my neck and couldn’t hold my head up. Still, the snowy night outside restored me quickly and it was worth it for the beauty. I can’t say the mountain minerals made any difference to my muscles, but it did give me glossy hair so the benefits weren’t completely fabricated…
Catching flights was a revelation. No separate process for disabled travellers. No additional assistance desk where you effectively need to check in twice. No requirement to arrive at the departure gate earlier than other passengers. We just checked in our bags and were told to head to the gate as normal where I was then tagged and lifted onto the plane. No fuss, no problem.
Another stark difference was the lack of concession for disabled people or carers in entry or ticket prices, something quite standard in the UK (over 65 seniors however were always discounted). On one hand the overall impression is that disabled people aren’t segregated, be it in access and opportuites, or entry prices. And I like that, being one of the majority again on the price list. However, as much as I’d like to pretend I can do everything independently… I just can’t. I need someone with me to help, in toilets, when I drop things, for pushing around, so have a new appreciation of the UK’s widespread carer discounts.
The scale and space of Canada is really spectacular in contrast to urban Europe. The air just feels fresh and clean in your lungs, the roads and pavements are wide. Toronto was unbelievably well maintained, a gorgeous city where I couldn’t even feel the breaks between paving stones – something only wheelchair users will appreciate! Coming from a half French/half English household where a kind of ‘Frenglish’ is my native tongue, the Canadian-French area of Quebec felt like my cultural home. Unfortunately, in another nod to Europe, it was suddenly difficult again, and felt like being dropped back in a British (or French) town. Ridges in the pavement, lifts and automatic doors not working, steps into buildings. As a silver lining Montreal’s Renaissance hotel was home to the best wet room I’ve ever seen, huge, practical and stylish, but beyond that, disabled bathrooms were wanting.
My dad is still able to lift me which makes such an adventurous family trip possible, and it was lovely to spend time with my family away from the hospitals and waiting rooms which have become our usual scenery. By no means a cheap trip, but one that will stay in my memory a long time. Oh, and maple syrup is delicious.