Someday I want to just go out and have fun. Simply have fun. No muss. No fuss. No drama. This isn't the way it works though. I'm learning that to have a disability is to be prepared, always, for things to go wrong. For accessibility to be sort-a rather than full.
But it all started good. We entered the AGO (the Art Gallery of Ontario) and went up a beautifully designed ramp. It was a joy to climb in my power chair. It had the twists and turns of a European Race track. Cool. On to the big event, the Tut-meister, we took the elevator up and were given ready access to the exhibit. The pieces were well laid out, there was plenty of room for me in my chair and Tessa in her scooter. We were able to get up close and personal to all the pieces. Nice. Easy. Fun.
Then we wanted to go see the special 3D movie about the exhibit. It was to start at 11 and we went to a museum person to ask about how to get there. She hemmed and hawed and got all flustered cause apparently it isn't easy for people in wheelchairs to get from the exhibit to the movie theatre. She did everything she could to discourage us from asking, her whole manner was one of 'would you just go home.' Nice. Well trained there. Once again, accessibility is about attitude as much as it is about barriers.
We gave up on her and found another employee. He explained that we'd have to go downstairs via the elevator we came up in and then we'd have to ask again. So we went downstairs and found a guard. When asked how to get to the theatre, the problem was that the elevator that went down to the theatre was on the other side of the closed gift shop. So we'd have to go down the same elevator we were just on, he'd call ahead to have a guard meet us there and let us off. I'm not kidding, as Tess is my witness, he actually yelled the instructions to me ... slowly.
We went down and as promised a guard let us off. He gave us directions, down a hallway, turn at the cafeteria, voila, we are at the theatre. A nice fellow came and told us that we were a bit early but to wait and when the box office opened he'd get us in and seated in the wheelchair area. We waited.
He gathered us and got us up to where we could get tickets. Joe stayed to buy tickets and Tess and I went to get seated. Immediately I saw that the doorway was narrow and the turn inside shallow. I thought, 'this can't be the wheelchair entrance' but there was the little blue guy in his little white chair indicating that this was it. I tried to get in and could just barely get through the door, however the turn was too sharp and the area too shallow. We tried, once. Twice. Then suddenly I was claustrophobic and managed to get the chair out. I suggested to Joe and Tessa that they go ahead on in and watch it and I'll meet them later. They said no, Tessa indicating that she wasn't sure her scooter could make the turn either.
Now I've got the AGO guy, apologizing and explaining to me that the doorway could be wider because there was just dead space around the frame. Poor guy didn't realize that him explaining to me how easily it could be made accessible just made the situation worse. He said, thought that the AGO at least tries to be accessible. I'm reminded, often, of Yoda when it comes to accessibility. 'Try? There is no try. There is do or not do, there is no try."
Well, we didn't get to see the film and so we went up to have lunch. After lunch we went into the gift shop which is on two levels, the one above accessed solely by stairs. To get to the upper portion we'd have to leave the shop, get into the crowd go back up the ramp and enter that way. Enough. This is a public building. A public building that has just been renovated.
I sat for a moment just inside the door. We were all getting ready to leave. Tessa asked me what was wrong. I said. 'I just want to go home. I don't want to make a complaint about accessibility, I don't want to get business cards and write letters. I just want to be a patron. But I feel that I have a responsibility to make a bit of noise.' Saying it out loud helped so I went over and waited to speak to the woman on the desk.
The security guard spoke to me and I said that I wanted to get the name of the building manager, or someone in charge at the AGO, to write a complaint about accessibility. She handed me a comment card to fill out and, seeing that it was just a comment card, I waited to get a name. I don't write letters to comment boxes, I write letters to people. She then, annoyed, said, 'There isn't any manager.' I looked at her startled, then she said like she was speaking to a 4 year old, 'The AGO is run by many people not just one.' Well, um, thanks.
The woman on the desk and the guy who she worked with were much nicer and more helpful. I explained that I had a complaint about accessibility and she said, 'Wonderful the more feedback we get the better we can make the building.' Now that's training speaking. I got the names and tucked them into my pocket and turned to come home, then I remembered so I asked the woman on the desk, 'When were the renovations finished?' She said, 'November of last year.'
Not even three months ago. They did renovations that make it difficult for people with disabilities to get from one place in the building to another, they design a gift shop wherein more than half is inaccessible, or more accurately barely accessible, from the main floor. On top of that they have staff that yell at you, assuming you are deaf, or who are openly bothered by having to answer questions as to disability directions.
Tomorrow, as this is published, I'll be writing the Art Gallery of Ontario a letter. What a fun way to spend my Sunday. You know what was funny, as we left the area where the theatre was we saw an AGO sign saying 'art is for everyone' ... well, except one guy in a wheelchair and one woman in a scooter and the hapless walkie who didn't get to see the movie either.
There is no Try.
(The AGO is a public building, may I remind you all ... I am public too.)