Removing barriers: Improving accessibility in Canada

Removing barriers: Improving accessibility in Canada

What does true accessibility look like? The ability to access one’s surroundings is crucial to living a life without barriers. True accessibility, however is more than just a physical issue. The access puzzle for a person living with MS must include: timely and flexible access to employment and income supports; quality medical care and treatments; reliable public transportation; education and counselling; support for family members and caregivers; workplace accommodations; and advancements in MS research leading to better symptom management and quality of life.  Achieving true accessibility means removing barriers that put you at a disadvantage. The burden of removing such barriers should not fall on the person living with a disability.  Some people do find it energizing to work towards effecting positive change in their communities. Karen was diagnosed with MS in 2010 and advocates for more accessible spaces in her community.

We have made considerable progress in making our society more inclusive, but there is still work to do. Canadians with disabilities continue to face barriers in their daily lives. What does an accessible Canada mean to you? Please take the time to participate in our online consultation or to attend one of our public sessions in person. Together, we will make history.


By Karen Scott

Karen Scott was diagnosed with MS in 2010. She has successfully advocated to make space more accessible for people using wheelchairs and mobility aids in her area. Through her grassroots approach to advocacy, Karen has won her fight for curb cuts in sidewalks and longer crossing signals.


The end of independence

I thought a wheelchair would mean the end of independence.

Admitting that you need a wheelchair is hard. Very hard.  Once you come to terms with it though, a wheelchair provides the same feeling of freedom that a driver’s licence gives a teenager. You can go anywhere, anytime, without asking anyone.

Or so you imagine.

Reality hits when you can’t cross the street because there’s no curb cut in the sidewalk.  When you have to sit in your chair in the rain or snow because the bus stop shelter is not wheelchair accessible.  When you realize a construction zone means going around the block to get to where you’re going. Or when you have to ask a complete stranger to push you over a snowy sidewalk – not once, not twice, but 30 times in one winter.  The list of disabling obstructions can be incredibly marginalizing.

When I began to consider putting Public Works on speed dial, I knew something had to be done.  As a volunteer with the council on aging pedestrian subcommittee, I had taken part in the development of a walk audit tool that assessed the quality of the pedestrian infrastructure in my hometown of Ottawa.  Through the MS Society’s social action committee, a few other people living with MS and I applied the audit to my neighbourhood, and I liaised with Public Works and OC Transpo for rehabilitation.

The results were delightful. The city added a new bus stop to a dangerous area, the bus shelter closest to my home was put on the list for curb cuts and a short crossing light was lengthened.


Taking action to improve life with MS

It was energizing to see change happen, and encouraging to note that it was the result of the independent actions of a few people living with MS.  The process highlighted the need for audits in other parts of the city and we therefore formed a committee under the Ottawa Disability Coalition and tweaked the audit to address our needs more fully.

This year – if all goes according to plan – we intend to complete three audits throughout the spring and winter, to submit an audit report to be shared with the city and other relevant organizations around Ottawa, and to develop an advocacy checklist so that others may seek change in their community.

I feel more independent now, and not just because my neighbourhood is easier to navigate without help – it’s because I believe I can personally resolve at least some of the problems that come my way.

Effecting change

We advocate on behalf of Canadians living with MS. Here are some of the areas of focus and tools we are using to raise awareness of various accessibility issues across Canada right now to effect change across the country.

You can advocate for better accessibility in your area in lots of ways. The Government of Canada is developing new planned accessibility legislation to promote equality of opportunity and increase the inclusion and participation of Canadians who have disabilities, and they want to hear from you!  Read through the discussion paper and fill out the #Accessible Canada consultation online or by e-mail at :

Keep your eyes on the blog for more information about a series of other consultations that the Government of Canada is currently running with regards to legislation around topics including employment and housing strategies. And let us know about your own advocacy efforts in the comments below. 

  1. Michelle says:

    My apologies if this has already come through already – the gremlins for me! I can only remember what I generally put, so this might be quite different!

    So much of this is so familiar to me, here in Kelowna. We have formed a HandyDart (Paratransit) coalition with the City and the transit company, but we have got no further on wider issues. The City doesn’t understand that the barriers are the things that disable us, not our disability. My latest struggles are in my blog Slowly but surely we will get there. I’m interested in how you formed your coalition and any terms of reference you can share. I’ve been gathering a few examples from other places, but the more we have the better!

  2. Karen Scott says:

    The mission of the Coalition is: to build a community in which all persons with disabilities have equitable access to the same opportunities as every other citizen of the City of Ottawa.

    The Coalition is the outcome of the MS Society’s SAC reaching out to organizations serving the disabled community with the goals:

    To engage with decision makers (government, funders and other relevant individuals/ groups) on issues of shared concern.

    To promote & improve person-centered services and supports for people with disabilities.

    It takes time and effort to build a coalition, but it’s worth it.

  3. Ken Vandenhaak says:

    My girlfriend is in a wheelchair with cerybil palsy. The biggest issues we find is the bathrooms. In the 11 months we have been together we have only been in about a dozen or so bathrooms that are properly equipped for handicapped people.
    Some of the things we have found are as follows: The toilet paper roll is to far away from the toilet. The automatic door closer is too heavy for her to hold the door open while trying to get her chair in the door. The counter (bathroom sink) is so deep that she can’t reach the soap dispenser and we even found a few that she couldn’t even reach the taps. The paper towel dispenser is mounted on the wall too high for her to reach. (same thing with hot air driers). Not enough room to be able to turn her chair around in the stall or in the bathroom.
    This list does not include bathrooms that are not set up for handicapped people. When designing a handicapped bathroom they should have a small person sit in a wheelchair and test everything to make sure it will work, or better yet ask a few handicapped people to check it out for them. And make sure that all doors equipped with an automatic door closer is easy enough to open with one finger.

  4. […] souvenez-vous de Karen Scott? Karen milite activement pour rendre son quartier plus accessible en demandant aux autorités […]

  5. […] are a lot of ways to get involved in advocating for better accessibility in Canada. Our federal government is […]

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