In Accessible Transportation, Accessible Travel, News & Blog

Emma Kivisild has travelled to Montreal several times with varying levels of mobility – she has MS and now uses a wheelchair. But on her recent Thanksgiving trip, she experienced the difference in accessibility between the East and West like never before.

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Emma settling in on the 2nd floor of her friend's Montreal apartment.

Canada is a big country, and you can trace a trail of accessibility from east to west, from oldest to newest. Of course, there are 1 million exceptions. Vancouver is full of inaccessible spaces, and Montreal has its share of elevators. The truism is – in a wheelchair? Move west.

I mention this because I — me, someone who lives in a wheelchair — recently went on holiday to Montreal. I went to Montreal, and visited my friends who live on the second floor with no elevator. A crazy idea.

I have multiple sclerosis, and I have been to Montreal many times, with varying levels of personal mobility. I negotiated icy streets with a cane. I clambered up stairs using the handrail in the metro. I have been to the markets, and the museums, and the restaurants.

This time, I just wanted to see my friends for Thanksgiving in their beautiful apartment. So my partner and I made a plan. We flew to Montreal, and got a cab to the apartment, where a neighbour and his two sons were waiting. These guys carried me in my manual wheelchair up to the second floor. Perfect! I wheeled around the apartment, and I had no desire, or need, to brave the stairs again for days.

A Thanksgiving feast – the calm before the storm.

It was a beautiful fall in Montreal this year. We could sit out on the terrace and the balcony well into the night. Delicious food was acquired at nearby bakeries and markets. Amazing harvest produce was purchased. Our friends were happy to show off the neighbourhood, my partner was happy to explore it, and I was happy to be regaled with stories. We put together a spectacular Thanksgiving feast. If I do say so myself.

On the day after Thanksgiving, which was rainy, we were all ready to relax and watch a movie.  But nothing is ever that simple. There is always some medical thing.

I managed to dislodge my Foley catheter (there are a lot of theories, suffice it to say it happened). Now what? If I were at home in Prince Rupert, I would just call the community nurse and they would come to my house. If they weren’t available, I could go to the emergency room, using my power chair, the ramp at our house and our wheelchair van.

But I was far from home and I was on the second floor.  We telephoned the nurse practitioner advice line and after establishing that I had not brought a catheter prescription with me, we realized that I had to go to the hospital. Now the question was how I would get there.

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“We discovered the existence of a purpose-built chair for taking people up and down stairs, but we also learned that in order for it to be helpful, you have to actually use it.”

The ambulance is expensive, so we rejected that. There is a service in Montreal called Medivan that will transport people up and down stairs, and take them to the hospital if needed. The vans are equipped with the amazing Stryker Chair, purpose-built for evacuations, with stair-tread tracks, and foot and lift handles. For reasons unknown the two Medivan men carried me backwards, in my own wheelchair, down the long steep staircase that included a tight turn, leaving the Stryker Chair sitting in their van. My polite description of how they dealt with me was that I survived. $220 later we were delivered to the hospital.

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Emma travels to the hospital using a Medivan.

At the hospital things went quickly, of course, because catheters are common all the way across the country. Done! Resume holiday! Even the rain was over. There was still the tricky problem of getting back into the apartment. To avoid another $220 ride & carry, our friend sent a text to her neighbours and we went out for dinner while we waited for a response.

Thankfully, by the end of our meal, the three strongmen were available to carry me up the stairs, and I took up my place in the apartment again. More relaxing, more beautiful fall weather. My partner went out in the morning to buy food items that we can’t get in Prince Rupert. There are many of those.

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The Jean-Talon Market features farmers from the countryside of Montreal.

On departure day we called the Medivan again, just to get me down to the street where we could call a cab. This time, a different set of employees used the Stryker chair and I did not have to fear for my life. Back in the cab, back to the airport, back home.

Fun was had, and lessons were learned. We discovered the existence of a purpose-built chair for taking people up and down stairs, but we also learned that in order for it to be helpful, you have to actually use it.

These are the adventures of people with disabilities.

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