Cripple Versus The Train In The Sky

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It sounded like it belonged in a fantastical storybook. The ones with magic wardrobes, secret gardens, and rabbit holes leading to tea parties with a mad cat. Is that where they got the idea? Oo, or did they rip it out of the tv screen and turn a futuristic cartoon into a real-world experience?

I had too many questions, but my six-year-old brain couldn’t coordinate my limited vocabulary and my unskilled mouth. My excitement twisted my tongue into knots, and words fell out like dribbled soup. So many things to say and ask, but I couldn’t get them out fast enough. I eventually bit my tongue and followed my parents with wide-eyed wonder. What else could I do?

It was our first trip to Vancouver, Canada (a few years before we moved here,) and they had this marvellous mode of transportation called The Skytrain. A train…In the sky…How brilliant was that? Twirling, swooping, looping through the clouds. Keeping pace with pigeons, eagles, and maybe something more bewitched. A flying squirrel or a unicorn, perhaps?

Oh, the possibilities were endless, and so was my unbridled excitement. I skipped and hopped through the mall as we made our way to the station. I was about to fly, fly so high like a rainbow. Out of the way people. Move. Hurry up. We’re going on an adventure!

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We bought our tickets and rode the escalator up to the platform. I don’t remember what I was expecting to see, but the train tracks triggered a twinge of disappointment. I looked up at the sky and didn’t see the tracks up there. Was this just the ramp for take-off? Did it have to build up speed before it could take us skyward?

Yeah, that made sense. It was like an airplane. It needs a running start to get off the ground. No need to panic. There was still a glimmer of hope. Faint. Dim. Getting dimmer. I was lied to! False advertising. I demand to speak to whoever is in charge of this gross miscarriage of childhood wonder.

You saw that coming, didn’t you. Of course, the Skytrain didn’t actually fly through the sky. This wasn’t an episode of the— what’s the show called— right, The Jetsons. I wasn’t meeting George and his robot dog. I was taking public transportation because, even back then, it was cheaper than gas.

Despite its misleading name, it was a wonderful invention of modern technology. It got us from one end of the city to the other without the stress of fighting traffic. It was faster too, and once I got over the bitterness of the betrayal, I loved watching the city fly by my window. And yes, I begrudgingly admitted that it was, indeed, a magical portal to a day of adventuring. Even if there were no unicorns or weird felines.

It was a long time ago. Long before my body betrayed me and left me with an ever-present, and always-changing, limp. It was before I was solely responsible for my well-being and safety. It was also before the difficulties of traveling public transportation became glaringly apparent.

Now, sadly, it’s lost most of its magic, and I try to avoid it at all costs. I haven’t ridden the train, bus, or SeaBus in several years. It’s always such a hassle, and accessibility is a beast I don’t want to fight. Elevators that were always locked. Escalators that didn’t work. The lack of seating and, unfortunately, people who don’t understand the concept of invisible disabilities.

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If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s what it sounds like. About 70-80% of people with a disability don’t use mobility aides or have any obvious signs of physical ailment. We might look perfectly healthy on the outside, but inside we’re held together with a wish, prayer, and maybe some duct tape, super glue, a stable gun.

We don’t look like the picture beside that seat, so as you can imagine, it leads to some awkward, frustrating, and sometimes dangerous encounters. I’ve been yelled at, scolded, and one person tried to physically pry me out of the seat. I’ve heard much worse stories, and some have had tragic endings. Bad things happen to people like me.

You can understand why I avoid public transportation, I’m sure. 

Bare with me, this won’t be a doomy, gloomy, woe-is-me sort of post. I’ll get past this in a minute, I promise. I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t state what many of us in the disability community have known for a long time. Public transportation is not built for people with atypical bodies. If you aren’t able-bodied, then good luck, I guess.

Too snarky?

I haven’t been on the Skytrain in years, but I’m trying to get out of my bubble. I want to explore, have adventures, and recapture the wonder of the pre-pandoodle days (I won’t stop calling it that, it makes me smile). I also want a little magic in my life again, so I decided to become a tourist in my city.

Since the first touristy thing I ever did in Vancouver was ride the Skytrain, it just felt right. I grabbed my walking stick because the visual cue buys me a lot of grace whether I need/deserve it or not. When people see the stick, they let me sit when I need to and don’t hurry me when I’m limping slowly.

It’s my magic wand!

I was expecting the usual hassles, but I was pleasantly surprised. There have been some upgrades to the accessibility of the stations and trains since I last gave it a go. The elevators at the stations I traveled to were clearly marked, and access wasn’t restricted. Seating on the train was more spread out, and there’s room for wheelchairs or scooters.

I traveled on a day my legs were giving me a bit of trouble, and I was worried I wouldn’t find a place to sit, but there was no need to stress. There were plenty of seats on the train, but very few at each station. If I needed to sit down while I waited, I would’ve had to go looking. 

That said, the trains weren’t delayed, and another train pulled into the station a few minutes after the other left, so there were practically no wait times. I’m sure on a busier day, that could change. Translink, if you’re reading this, could you add more seats at the stations, please? Thank-you.

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There were also plenty of attendants at each station. If help was needed, there was someone close by to lend a hand, and everyone I encountered was super friendly. It really calmed some of my trepidation as someone with a predominantly invisible disability. That extra layer of visible protection will, I hope, make the ride safer.

Anyone with auditory or visual disabilities, they’ve made improvements to the on-train navigation. For the most part, the overhead announcements sound less like the microphone is taking a deep dive into the Pacific Ocean. Visual cues on the overhead map light up and it lets you know which station you’re coming into. There are also lights by the doors that flash when they’re opening or closing.

I don’t know when these changes were implemented, but I appreciate the effort. Is it perfectly accessible? No, of course not. The world is still built for able-bodied people. There are, however, good people working very hard to create a more inclusive society.

Gotta love inclusivity!

It was a lazy day of travel and exploration that brought back a silly memory and a moment of appreciation. We’re moving towards a more inclusive world. It’s slow, yes, but it’s happening. If that’s not a bit of magic? I don’t know what is.

Or, getting out and exploring put me in a good mood. Either way, I’ll ride the rails again with slightly less apprehension. It’s a bit easier than it used to be which means more adventures for me.

Oo, and here’s hoping we get a real flying train someday. Wouldn’t that be brilliant? Yep, my inner child just giggled. What a little weirdo.

The Skytrain At A Glance

Accessibility: 

  • All stations have elevators with clearly marked signs. 
  • There are station attendants that can help you if you need it. That includes sighted guides in the station and assistance tapping for ticket purchases. 
  • On the trains, the doors are marked with wheelchair accessibility and priority seating for those with disabilities, seniority, or pregnancy. 

For more information and station specifics: www.translink.ca/rider-guide/transit-accessibility/accessing-public-transit

Mobility: 

  • There is a small gap between the platform and the train. If you use a mobility aide or are a bit unsteady, keep an eye out. It’s not wide, so don’t worry, be aware.
  • The trains break hard when they pull into the station. It was jarring on sensitive joints. Highly recommended stay seated until the train stops and to be safe.

      – I didn’t have any trouble navigating the space. It’s clean, the ground is level, and easy to move through. 

Amenities: 

  • Each station has its own quirks. The ones I went to had places to buy food and drinks. 
  • There are public toilets that do include accessible toilets. 
  • You can buy your tickets at the vending machines near the gates or online at www.compasscard.ca/
  • Since I was unsure of my plans for the day, I got a day pass which works for all zones of travel and will give you access to the Skytrain, bus, and Seabus.

Safe travels, friends.

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