One of the many, many things that bothers me about disability & accessibility is how many of the problems can be solved by throwing money at them.
Let me just give the simplest, bare bones problem that’s on my mind this month.
Once a week, Don attends an appointment that is on the other side of the city from us. He has three possible ways of getting there.
First, he can take public transit. There is one bus from our neighbourhood that gets to where he has to go. (This is an improvement – the bus he takes “directly” only recently became wheelchair accessible.) As anyone with a chronic pain condition will tell you, though, taking the bus anywhere can be extremely painful. The bus drops him off a few blocks from where he needs to be, and he “just” has to navigate the non-existent curb cuts and the broken side walks. Then he gets to reverse the whole process, except the return trip is during rush hour, and wow do people get really pissy when a full-time wheelchair user needs a bus during rush hour.
Second, he can attempt to book Access-A-Bus. In our city, Access-A-Bus must be booked a week in advance. Not 8 days in advance, not 6 days in advance, just seven days in advance. You are not guaranteed a space if there are too many people that day. You will get a phone call two days beforehand if you’re going to be on the bus. You have no control over the return trip, other than that there will be one, and you should let them know when you’ll be available. Although Access-A-Bus is free for users, it’s not the most effective way of getting around.
The third option is that Don takes a taxi. It costs about 25$ one way. The taxi can be pre-booked on either end. It usually comes on time. It takes him exactly where he wants to go, drops him off at the door, and picks him back up at the same location. It just blows through a large-ish wad of cash every time.
Don takes a taxi to this appointment a lot. Unlike a lot of people with disabilities, we have access to family financial support. We can afford that 50$ to make sure Don can get to his appointment on time and in a relative degree of comfort.
For other people we know, the options are much smaller: Be in large amounts of pain while trying to get around the city, or don’t go out at all. (Buying a car is also a “throw money at it” solution. It also assumes you can drive, and have a place to put a car.)
People with disabilities are disproportionately poor. Many also have monthly costs that add up pretty quickly, like medications, purchase and repair of mobility aids, doctor’s appointments, etc. They may need to pay interpreters. Some of them have dietary restrictions or food allergies that require “special” food items, like wheat-free flour or lactose-free milk. A lot are no where near as financially privileged as Don and I are, and cannot afford the expense of a pain-limited trip to the doctor.
A well-funded, well-advertised Access-a-Bus program, along with funding increases to ensure that all buses are wheelchair accessible can make such a difference. But that is not the financial priority of my city at the moment. (Apparently, it’s a high-speed ferry of some sort, and a new hockey arena.)
So, instead, aiming to keep Don’s pain levels as low as possible (he’s recovering from surgery at the moment), we throw money at the problem. And thank our lucky stars that there’s money to be thrown at it.
So many others are not nearly so lucky.