Last Monday evening I had my regularly scheduled writing class downtown at Second City, here in Toronto. Before I injured my ankle, I would simply hop on the subway that’s right up the street from my apartment, take it downtown, and then walk about 10-15 minutes to get to class. The whole process took just under an hour and was relatively painless.
But all of the entrances and exits to the subway require at least 2 flights worth of stairs – impossible with my walker. There are elevators available, but they require about 20 extra minutes of walking within each station, as you weave in and out of multiple buildings, each elevator taking you up or down only a single level. As someone who experiences fatigue and balance issues due to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome that are currently being exacerbated by an injury, not only does this process take up excessive amounts of my time, but it also exhausts me and is unsafe for me to undertake, especially alone. My medical professionals have stated that at this point, the subway is most definitely not an option for me.
So I look to Wheel-Trans – the accessible public transportation here in Toronto. Although there is a rather laborious interview process to be permitted to use the service, I am eligible. So I look to book a ride. The thing is, you can’t simply book a direct trip. You have to choose a half hour window for your destination arrival time, and it is strongly recommended that you leave an additional half hour window before the time you actually have to be there in order to guard against delays. So, for my class at 7 PM, I have to book a ride that will arrive at the location between 6 and 6:30 PM.
I then have to decide what time I want to be picked up afterwards, as all Wheel-Trans trips are round trip. My class is supposed to end at 10, but often will run at least 5-10 minutes late. The car will only wait 2 minutes for me, so I have to be sure I’ll be ready. To be safe, I have to request that my pickup time be between 10:30 and 11 PM.
Then I look to see what time I will be picked up for the first trip. It gives me another half hour window. The window is from 4 to 4:30 PM. Because, you see, Wheel-Trans will not take me directly to and from my destination. It operates in a similar way to a ride-share, and multiple people will be picked up and dropped off at their locations during the course of my trip.
And even this is only possible if I book the ride far enough in advance. Any requests for rides within 24 hours are unlikely to be available.
So, with everything going as smoothly and successfully as possible – I’m looking at having to book off my day from at least 4 PM until midnight – a minimum of 8 hours, a complete workday, for a single 3 hour class.
I can’t express strongly enough how unacceptable that is. I don’t have that kind of time to waste. I don’t know anyone who does.
So I use uber to get to class. It costs me $20 – much more than the $3.25 of the bus, but less than the $40 of a regular taxi.
When I arrive at the building I sit on my walker and wait outside for somebody to come by and let me in. The regular door can only be opened from inside and my walker doesn’t fit through the rotating door.
Once I’m in class, it doesn’t get much easier. I’m the only one with a walker. I’m still getting used to it. Where to put it, how to move with it, how to talk about it. I feel self conscious and uncomfortable. I don’t fit. On top of that I’m trying to take notes with sore and stiff hands. I’m trying to maintain my posture in shitty plastic chairs. And still I’m trying to focus, participate and learn.
After class, everyone decides to go out for drinks. And I can go, because at least with uber I have the flexibility of ordering a car whenever I’m ready to go home. I can’t drink, but I can sit with them, get to know them better, and be part of the group.
But then I find out – the bar’s on the second floor of a building. We call, and there’s no elevator. I can’t go.
So I go outside and sit on my walker. I order an uber and spend another $20 to get home, knowing that I won’t be able to go to the show that everyone else is planning to see on the weekend, because it simply costs too much to get there and back. My outings are primarily reserved for essentials like class and doctors appointments.
And still, I consider the night a success. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to make it to or through the class. And I love the class. I’m excited about what I’m learning. I’m motivated and inspired, and so happy to get the chance to meet and work with my wonderfully talented classmates.
And I’m making strides. I’ve made it halfway through Second City’s writing and improv training programs. My improv class had our first show a couple of weeks ago and it was an absolutely incredible experience. And even though the venue was highly inaccessible, my teacher and classmates were unbelievably supportive, helping to carry my walker up and down stairs, and enabling me to perform.
Overall, I consider myself to be very lucky. I’m lucky that I can afford to take uber in the first place and leave my apartment at all. I’m lucky that I’m physically well enough to take these classes and that I have access to such amazing programs here in Toronto. I’m lucky that I’m getting the chance to pursue what I want to do, to train and improve and forge ahead.
Sill though, it’s a struggle. Every time I leave my apartment it’s a confrontational act, as I have to force my way through the basic structure of an environment that is not designed for me. I am inserting myself where I am not expected, anticipated, or planned for. And it’s wearing. I don’t like fighting. I don’t like aggression. And it shouldn’t be this hard for me to navigate this world and live my life.
But right now, that’s the way it is – for me, and for so many others. Others that we never see, because they don’t have the resources to fight their way out and into the world. And ultimately, that’s what makes this struggle so important and so worthwhile.