How accessible is London? One woman challenges politicians to find out

Londoner Alicia McGaw has a challenge to give city councillors a different perspective of the city: do all the things you normally do in a day, but do it in a wheelchair.

Londoner Alicia McGaw wants city councillors to spend an entire day in a wheelchair

Londoner Alicia McGaw wants city politicians to try going about their daily tasks but while using a wheelchair, to see how non-accessible some parts of the city are. (Gary Ennett/CBC News)

Londoner Alicia McGaw has a challenge to give city councillors a different perspective of the city: do all the things you normally do in a day, but do it in a wheelchair. 

McGaw, 36, has used a wheelchair for 16 years, since a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down. 

"I want to give city councillors a realistic view of being in a wheelchair in the City of London," McGaw said. 

Though many places bill themselves as accessible, there are frustrating details that many don't think of — but they might if they saw the world from the perspective of a person using a wheelchair.

McGaw has trouble at private venues as well as City of London arenas, rinks and community centres.  

"In washrooms, seven or eight times out of ten, I'm not able to reach the soap dispenser or the paper towels," McGaw said. "It's a good thing I'm a mom because I've got wipes with me wherever I go." 

Parking, too, is "horrendous," McGaw said. 

"I drive my own vehicle. I have a four-foot ramp that comes out of the van, so if I can't find a handicapped spot that's large enough, I have to take up two spots, and people aren't pleased with me." 

Adapting to a new life

McGaw was just two days shy of her 20th birthday when the car crash happened. Since then, she's adapted to her new life.

She also has toddler. Her husband has rigged up lifts and ramps to help her care for and play with their son. 

"I would have loved it if there was a group for moms in chairs, we could go for walks or rolls out in London," McGaw said. "I would have lived to bounce some ideas off moms in chairs. How do you pick up your baby? How do you get him around the house? We ended up figuring stuff out ourselves." 

Although as a teenager McGaw worked and volunteered with kids with disabilities, she said she had "no idea" what it's like to actually complete all tasks from a chair. 

"It's the little things. My husband and I love mom and pop restaurants, but usually I can't get into them. Or if I do, they're so cramped I can't get around," McGaw said. "I can't get into anything on Richmond Row, the small coffee joins, the tiny stores, I'm not able to access them. Even if I can get through the door, there's too much stuff on the floor, or their displays make it impossible." 

McGaw would like to see politicians keep a normal schedule — meetings with constituents, getting kids to and from work, ribbon cuttings, meetings at city hall — but to do it from a wheelchair. 

She said she thinks politicians will be surprised at how inaccessible some "accessible" places are. 

McGaw has partnered with medical supplier Dura Med, which has agreed to lend manual and power wheelchairs to city councillors willing to take on the challenge. 

About the Author

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.