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I was assessed for a permanent wheelchair merely days ago, and have been using a rental chair for maybe two weeks. I live in Ottawa, Canada, and we have recently gotten almost a foot of snow. My buildings (thank goodness) hire private contractors to plough and have employees onsite to clear and salt the sidewalks. The rest of the city is not so good. 

As a new wheelchair user, I finally understand the misery of using a wheelchair in Canadian winter. Ottawa is touted as having the best transit system in Canada. But with the construction of the new LRT system, many routes are being cut, prices are being raised, and buses are in a higher state of disrepair than I have seen in a long time. 

Buses in Ottawa are able to kneel, they lower with hydraulics to be level with curbs to aid in assisting strollers, mobility devices, and people who just can’t manage the drop to the curb. They also have fold out ramps to load wheelchairs and especially large strollers. 

They always have some problems, but it seems like they are getting worse. There is nothing quite as horrible as having every other passenger attempting to board the bus getting angry at you because the ramp won’t lower fast enough. The ramps work on a motor, and so far all but two buses I’ve ridden on have had faulty, shorting, or damaged motors that can’t lift the weight of the ramp. 

The ramp will lift several inches, stop, and then fall several inches as it attempts to unfold. It can take a couple minutes for the ramp to unfold, humiliating those using the ramp, and pissing off a lot of paying customers. 

This whole fiasco can be solved quite easilly, as I have seen. All the operator has to do is get out of the chair and pull the handle to unfold the ramp manually. It’s not difficult. The handle is fabric and lays under the ramp to be used in emergency, such as the ramp not coming back up into the bus. 

Another issue is the folding seats that lift up to allow space for wheelchairs and strollers. They have a grab bar with a signal button that is meant solely for wheelchairs. This button is often neglected, or mashed by children to the point of no longer working. The seat with the grab bar is also not anchored properly, and is so unstable wheelchair users are forced to over reach and hold the back of the seat for dear life. 

Luckily for me, I have one leg that works, and can hold myself stable by pushing back with my leg so my chair rests against the padded side rest. These side rests are used to stop people in the seats from flying forward in event of a crash or sudden stop. They are often full of holes, greasy, covered in filth, and horribly frayed. 

The floor of the buses are covered in salt and water, incredibly slippery, and offer absolutely no traction for manual wheelchairs. So while your breaking your arm trying to hold on, you’re sliding all over the floor and bumping into other passengers. 

The transit system in Ottawa is hailed as a role model for other cities, called great and receives all kinds of praise. But shortcuts are taken that diminish the effectiveness of the transport for literally no one except the disabled. 

I know this is not done on purpose, it’s not discriminatory or anything. But winter is the worst time of year for those with mobility issues, leading many people to not leave their homes for many weeks. Does this not warrant a bit of extra care? Would it be so difficult to repair ramps, tighten the movable seats, and install rubber mats? “It sort of works” is not acceptable in minus thirty degree weather. 

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