Sunday, February 21, 2010

Not So Long AGO

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.)


Stephanie said...

Ugh! So sorry that turned out this way. :( Maybe a copy of your letter to the editor of your local papers would help too - that way if the letter gets "lost" once it gets to the museum - at least the museum board will see it in the paper......along with everybody else. ;)


Brenda said...

I'm so sorry - how utterly disappointing! To think that a NEWLY renovated building would not have a better boggles the mind. Thank you, though, for sharing your experience. I was actually hoping to go and see the Tut exhibit, but now I'll have to rethink. Maybe I'll write a letter, asking them to let me know when the "art is for everyone" policy actually comes into effect.

Manuela said...

I wonder if a letter should also go to the building department at City Hall - they afterall are responsible for approving the renovations. It sounds like the new legislation on accessibility is restricted to ensuring someone can get in the door, once inside its like access doesn't apply anymore. The same issues apply to the Roger Centre (Skydome) and CN Tower - special elevators, wait for security guards to escort, etc. It just reinforces the "difference" mentality. I know it gets tiresome to always write and it often feels like things don't change but remember the ballet - they listened and made changes. Hope the response is similar here!

Tamara said...

Ridiculous situation. The accessibility part is bad enough, but why in the world would anyone think that a person using a wheelchair need to be spoken to slowly and loudly? What is with that? It seems like it happens to you a lot.

FridaWrites said...

Go, Dave. I'm glad you got to see the exhibit but sad you missed the film and the gift shop (those are fun).

I love the Yoda quotation--very fitting.

MoonDog said...

of course they had to yell and talk slowly because OBVIOUSLY if you are in a wheelchair you must be mentally disabled as well. oh and I forgot you must live with your parents too even though you are an adult. why are people so ignorant? I have disabled children and someone I know who has not even been by to MEET them assumes that they will live with me forever. they are still young enough to use a stroller but I know all these issues are coming our way. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Dave Hingsburger said...

update, letter is written and sent ... will let you know what happens

Anonymous said...

People who are deaf shake their heads at being shouted at; they can't hear shouting either. Those of us who are hearing impaired don't like it either since it tends to distort sounds rather than make it easier to hear. It's like turning up the volume on static. All you get is louder static. This museum needs a lot of help.

Andrea S. said...

Someone named Anonymous beat me to it -- us Deaf folks don't like shouting either. Even asides from the sound distortion effect, people also move their mouths very differently when they shout as compared to when they just talk naturally. Shouting makes it far more difficult to lipread you.

I seriously doubt there is ANYone with ANY disability who finds it helpful to be shouted at.

The only conceivable exception I can think of is a person with a relatively mild hearing loss (ie, a hard of hearing person) who, for whatever reason, isn't wearing their hearing aid. And even then, the "benefit," as Anonymous points out above, is hardly universal for all hard of hearing people. Many deaf and hard of hearing people (not all, but many and maybe most) do have an auditory processing disorder in addition to the hearing loss that can cause sound to be, not just quieter, but also distorted. This can limit the potential benefits of amplification. Up to a certain point, amplification MIGHT help (which is why many of us do wear hearing aids in the first place), but beyond that point, as Anonymous says, it's just amplifying static, which is useless and even counterproductive.

Hint: If we're wearing a hearing aid, then we ALREADY HAVE whatever amplification we need or want, to the exact quantity we need it. If we're not wearing a hearing aid, then that's probably because amplification is useless for us. Either way, shouting doesn't help!

Tessa said...

I must say both Dave and Joe were amazing.. I was shaking cause I was sooo mad! That guy repeated himself to Dave, only LOUDER, cause Dave didn't jump up and run off, I guess.

The door was impossible. I actually can't imagine that it meets fire safety regulations... It was like a funnel. The wall was RIGHT in front of you as you entered. I mean REALLY close. My scooter wouldn't have made it, although the guy was saying that other "machines like that" do it all the time.

People were trying to push and pull the chair to "help", it was really stressful! Dave seemed calm, but I know it was a difficult situation, handled with grace and effectiveness.

I am looking forward to seeing the repsonse, and am planning to send a letter myself too. Cause Dave inspires me to not just look the other way.

And the display WAS great! But don't bother looking up the skirts on the statues. sigh


TheWiredOne said...

I'm sorry this happened to you. It really is unacceptable how not only are some places totally inaccessible, the people in charge then try to 'spain things. The Yoda quote is fitting. As a Star Wars fan, I loved seeing it. May the Force be with you.
Word verification: forus

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Umm - aren't we supposed to be implementing the service section of the AODA? The AGO is a public building, covered I think by the service section of the AODA.

I wonder if a letter to a member of the opposition in provincial parliament might be in order?

Dave, I'm really sorry you had to encounter these barriers. I can see how this would wear a person down.


Moose said...

It's really not much better here in the US. The translation of the badly worded Americans with Disabilities Act always seems to come out as, "Do as little as possible with as much hand-waving as we can." I love it when I point out the problems and get a nose tilted up in the air, with, "We have MADE accommodations!"

Fun Mum said...

Oy! We have already planned a visit to King Tut for March 15. I think I will call the AGO to ask about accessibility just for shits 'n' giggles. Accessibility isn't an issue for our family, but it's sure an issue for the world as a whole.