I already put a link up on the Girl With The Cane Facebook page to mssinenomine’s blog post about the City of New Westminster’s new “Q to Q Ferry” service, but I wanted to follow up with some comments of my own.
Content Warning: Ableism, Lack of Accessibility
Image Description: Concept illustration showing a wheelchair in front of stairs, to represent something inaccessible.
The City of New Westminster, British Columbia, is running a ferry service to connect two communities, Quayside and Queensborough, which are separated by the Fraser River. It’s a pilot project that runs until late September.
Specifically, the website says:
“The ferry can carry up to four bikes per sailing on a first-come, first served basis. Although walkers, strollers and bicycles are permitted on the ferry, the use of wheelchairs and scooters is not supported.
As the ferry docks are located on the Fraser River, which is subject to a large tidal height difference, the access ramp can be steep at times and there is a step to get onto the ferry. Cyclists, passengers with strollers and those with mobility challenges should use their judgement about whether they are capable of using the ramp and ferry based on conditions at that time, should exercise caution and use the available handrails as necessary. If the demonstration service is extended into a longer trial or permanent service, the City would explore ways to improve the accessibility of the ferry terminals.”
This is why Canada need a federal Canadians with Disabilities Act, by the way. Because given that these attitudes about accessibility are out there, it’s going to take government legislation with some teeth in it to make accessibility a reality, and not all the provinces aren’t going to make those laws by themselves – currently only Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have disability legislation on the books. British Columbia is working on legislation.
An Act is in the works under the Trudeau government. But today I’m concerned with attitudes.
Lack of Accessibility is Bad Optics
I wrote this post on accessibility several years ago, about how if buildings aren’t accessible, if wheelchair ramps aren’t kept clear in the winter, if electric doors don’t work, if there’s even just “a little step” to get into a place, you send a powerful message to disabled community residents (and disabled visitors to your community, and their families, friends, caregivers, and anyone who’s ever been affected by poor access and who notices when it’s available/not available):
- When you don’t maintain the features that make your business accessible (keep ramps clear, maintain electric doors, etc.), you say to disabled customers, “You’re disposable – we don’t care if you can’t get into our business and on that basis decide to go somewhere else.”
- When your business isn’t accessible, period, it says to potential disabled customers, “We don’t care that you’ve got money to spend here. We’d rather not have your business.”
Both leave me thinking, “Why is a wheelchair user’s money not as valuable as a non-disabled person’s money?”
The Q to Q Ferry’s “We’d Rather Not Have Your Business” Plan
The Q to Q Ferry seems an especially egregious accessibility offender because its website makes it sound as if the City of Westminster figured that whether or not it could make the ferry accessible shouldn’t have a bearing on the ferry’s sustainability as a long-term venture. The “we’ll get to it if it becomes an issue” attitude toward ferry accessibility is significantly flawed in that accessibility is already an issue (not for the City, apparently, but certainly for people who use wheelchairs and scooters) and it’s reasonable to ask why the City wouldn’t acknowledge an accessibility issue at the ferry’s planning stage; there’s nothing about disability in the RFP (provided to mssinenomine by Alice Cavanaugh) :
- Did the City forgot disabled people as it planned the “Q to Q Ferry” project?
- Did the City consider disabled people, but didn’t figure that they’d want to use the “Q to Q Ferry” service, and figured accessibility planning was unnecessary?
- Did the Vity consider disabled people, but didn’t figure that accessibility was a big enough issue in general that the “Q to Q Ferry” plan needed to consider it?
- Did the City figure it could save money by not addressing accessibility right away and just hoped that no one would bring up the issue? (My money is on this one)
Whatever the reason, the City of New Westminster has shot itself in the foot, because they don’t have everything they need to evaluate whether their pilot project is sustainable. It won’t know at the end of September whether disabled people would use the ferry even if they could (including people with mobility difficulties who don’t use a chair, but might have trouble on the ramp, per the website warning); it will have no idea what the revenue stream from that demographic could be. It won’t know what it will cost to operate an accessible ferry, and therefore whether it has been charging enough over the summer. When you prevent a group of people from accessing a service, you run this risk, as mssinenomine also observed:
“Whatever information gathered from this trial will be flawed because the trial itself is flawed. The City of New Westminster will have no idea how well large the need for this service is, because it has, by design, excluded an entire segment of the population who may or may not want to use it.
Are these the best times? Intervals? How do bicyclists, people pushing strollers and wheelchair and scooter users interact with other pedestrians? Should boarding be prioritized? How effective is our wayfinding?”
And it didn’t count on bad publicity.
Disabled People Know How to Spread the Word
Bad publicity not just from me and from mssinenomine and the reach of our blogs, but from the CBC.ca article that says that the ferry isn’t accessible to wheelchairs and scooters, and disabled people in the City of New Westminster itself, the disabled visitors to that city…and every family member, friend, caregiver, service provider, and everyone with a vested interest in accessibility, because we get the word around about these things. It’s a very big community, and it recommends businesses and services on the basis of how accessible they are and says, “Don’t bother” about the ones that aren’t.
I do let businesses know when I’ve encountered an accessibility issue and give them a chance to address it before I move on. But if it’s something that’s easily fixed and it doesn’t get fixed, or if I get a bad reaction to bringing it up (like “If the demonstration service is extended into a longer trial or permanent service, the City would explore ways to improve the accessibility of the ferry terminals,”) I won’t go back. And I’ll tell people exactly why.
Why should I use the services (or recommend to other disabled people that they do the same) of a business that’s just willing to “explore” becoming accessible given a set of circumstances? Either my money is good enough for them or it’s not.
It’d be nice to get the Mayor of New Westminster’s input on this, wouldn’t it? mssinenomine talked to him on Twitter – check it out. And thank you to mssinenomine and to the Disability Visibility Project for bringing the story of the Q to Q Ferry Service to my attention.