Invisible Disability and the City

This post was written by new student Barbara Lutterotti during her first course, DST 501.

A walking map indicating the distance from Union Station to The School of Disability Studies.
A walking map indicating the distance from Union Station to The School of Disability Studies.

Hello and welcome to “Bitter Barb’s” world of living with an Invisible Disability.  For the record, I’m not really bitter about my ID,  just the fact that my husband and kids are in Italy! But I digress…

I’ve decided to reflect on my first day of commuting to Toronto to attend DST501 and the challenges I was presented with that day.  It was a rather frustrating experience for me as I imagine it would be for anyone with an Invisible Disability. It’s not easy to navigate in a new, very big, very busy city.

A GO train.
A GO train.

On July 6, I was keen, alert and raring to go! I decided to take the Go Train from Aldershot to make my life easier….yeah, not so much.  First, I forgot my accessible parking permit in my Jeep…at home…in Hamilton so close range parking was not an option.  Due to the early train I was taking, parking was limited and I managed to get a spot way at the back.  So, with all my gear I walked as fast as I could from the very back of the parking lot.  I rushed to pay for my fare (Presto card) only to endure a line up thus, missing my train. “Ok, no worries, there’s another train soon”, I thought.  I followed the signs to the platform and before me was my enemy…stairs!! Without getting into the gory details, my ID involves my spinal cord and has caused irreparable damage to my back and left leg . This means that stairs are no longer my friend. I’m sure I could have taken the elevator at the station to the platform but my pride gets in the way.  When one has an ID and no visible mobility aid to assist them (ie; cane, walker, crutches, wheelchair etc;), people tend to assume you’re lazy or flat out have no right using the elevator as those sorts of things are reserved for the “visibly disabled”.  Side note,  I don’t take advantage of my accessible parking permit either because I get looks and stares that might as well say, “Why are YOU parking there??”.  But again, I digress…

Stairs at a GO station.
Stairs at a GO station.

So, I walked down the stairs, down a long corridor then I was faced with another set of stairs. Yikes! Now pain sets in already and it’s not even 7:30AM.  Jeesh!

A long corridor at a GO station.
A long corridor at a GO station.

The train ride was great and I arrived at Union Station (more stairs!!). My friend (another student in Disability Studies) encouraged me to walk as it took just about the same amount of time as taking the subway at that particular time of the morning.  Little did I know that this was a 2.5 km walk.  Needless to say, I was already hurting but sucked it up.

Stairs at a subway station.
Stairs at a subway station.

I knew that sitting in class for essentially 6 hours a day would not be easy for me but somehow I made it and was looking forward to a nice, quiet and relaxing train ride home. Instead of walking to Union, I took the subway.  More stairs!! More crowds to push through.  Union Station is a bit of a mess right now with construction so there was that to navigate plus…my favourite…more stairs! I don’t know the station well enough to know where the elevators are at plus, I needed to get home to some wine.  Don’t judge :)

A crush of people at Union Station.
A crush of people at Union Station.

To say the platform was crowded is an understatement.  After about a ten minute wait, the crowd and I herded ourselves onto the train.  Next obstacle? No seats.  I do not carry a cane (although I should some days) so how was anyone supposed to know I had an ID and that I was dying to get the weight off my leg and secretly hoping that a seat would be offered?  I was too shy to ask for a seat as my pride got in the way. I wonder if I DID have a cane that day if anyone would have offered a seat.  Not sure.  It took 45 minutes to just get to Oakville as the train signals were compromised, so said the conductor.  I was shooting evil looks through my sunglasses to the man in the seat in front of me as he was sleeping and I think even drooling a little. Grrrrrrr!

A packed GO train that is standing room only.
A packed GO train that is standing room only.

So, I finally got a seat and all was well until I arrived at my stop.  After I disembarked, I had to descend the stairs, walk the corridor, climb more stairs then hike to my car at the back of the parking lot in Aldershot.  Did I mention there was traffic once I departed the train station? I’d better not.  I might seem bitter :)

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