Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo's free rides to vaccine clinics are not wheelchair-accessible

The usefulness of an offer by the City of Waterloo to take people with disabilities and older adults to vaccination appointments is being questioned, because the transportation being used is not wheelchair accessible.

City says it's working on a way to provide wheelchair-accessible transportation

A wheelchair user in a mask makes their way across a street in downtown Ottawa on March 1, 2021. Advocates in K-W have raised accessibility concerns as a transportation service to vaccine appointments offered by the City of Waterloo is not wheelchair accessible. (Brian Morris/CBC)

The usefulness of an offer by the City of Waterloo to take people with disabilities and older adults to vaccination appointments is being questioned, because the transportation being used is not wheelchair accessible.

In a news release, the city said that beginning today, the Home Support Services team would offer free transportation to people 65 and up as well as adults with disabilities. The service is appointment-only and available Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

"Passengers should be able to get into and out of the vehicle independently to promote safe physical distancing whenever possible," the release reads.

While the service designed for people over 65 and people with disabilities, the vehicles used are not wheelchair accessible — which has raised concerns about accessibility for David Kuhn. 

Kuhn, chair of disability advocacy non-profit Kitchener-Waterloo AccessAbility, says he think the city should have made it more clear in its communications that the service is not fully accessible.

"Ideally, nobody would be left out, but obviously that's not always feasible," he said.

He says the news raises broader concerns about accessibility in the vaccine rollout.

"A lot of the individuals who have disabilities are some of the most at risk, and they're the individuals that are being encouraged to get vaccinated when the vaccines are available," Kuhn, who uses a wheelchair, said.

On Friday, Region of Waterloo Public Health opened up vaccine pre-registration to people with high risk of developing complications from COVID-19. That includes adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

"So the fact that services are being offered that leave those individuals out is very concerning."

Response from the city

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the City of Waterloo said that the service is an extension of the Senior Services Transportation Program, which uses vehicles owned by the city that are not wheelchair accessible.

"Our transportation program (which usually has a cost associated with it) has historically coordinated with other providers such as GRT Mobility Plus and local taxi services to refer clients with unique needs if we are unable to accommodate them (as in the case of requiring wheelchair accessible transport)," the statement reads.

The city said it's intent was to make it easier for older adults and adults with disabilities to get to their vaccine appointments "particularly if transportation and cost may be a barrier" and said that it is "currently in discussion with wheelchair accessible service providers in order to continue to meet the needs of the community."   

Kuhn says that while that news is encouraging, the barrier for people who use wheelchairs is still fully in place. 

"I think it's admirable that they are looking into that — it shows that they're thinking about it," Kuhn said. "But to say that after a public release ... it doesn't really help to say, 'We're going to do it, but we can't do it right now."

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