Disabled people have been talking about how inaccessible the TTC has been for decades. Some stations have no elevators; elevators that do exist constantly breakdown. Older streetcar models had no way to help wheelchair or scooter users board. When the newer streetcars were introduced, many streetcar routes had to be rebuilt so that the stops could actually accommodate the ramps from the streetcars. And we can’t expect fully accessible stations until 2025 to comply with the AODA.
While we have to sit around and wait for the stations we need to become more accessible, there are some things that you can do that will instantly improve the quality of service for disabled and chronically ill passengers. Keep these tips in mind the next time you’re taking the train or bus so that you can make the TTC a less negative experience.
1. Don’t Crowd the Doors
Nothing is more frustrating than boarding a bus or train and not being able to reach the seats because there is a group of people standing at the front of the bus. It’s even worse when you break through that crowd to find no one standing at all near the back or that there’s even free seats!
As someone who uses a cane, passing between in tight spaces often means not being able to hold onto the poles when the bus starts moving or having my cane kicked by other passengers. For wheelchair users, it can be the difference between being able to board the bus or train at all.
2. Switch to Unscented Products
The TTC is a tight space, and we all hate standing next to someone whose scent isn’t pleasant. But that doesn’t mean that you should load up on perfumes and deodorants before getting on the TTC. Many people live with chemical sensitivities and that new perfume you’re wearing could trigger migraines, nausea, or other symptoms in the person next to you.
Instead, opt for fragrance-free products when you can, and definitely don’t re-apply them while you’re on the TTC. You may have a signature scent, but that won’t really matter to the person who has to call in sick to work on their commute because you couldn’t live without perfume for a day.
3. Be Mindful of Your Volume
Commuters spend a lot of time on the TTC, so many of us listen to music, play games, or talk with our friends during our trips. Travelling on the TTC would be a lot drearier if we couldn’t do those things. But while you’re doing those things, just be mindful of loudly you do them.
Sensory overload is a very real thing, and the bright lights on the new subway trains and the bustle of rush hour can often trigger those things. Loud music from other passengers can make an awful situation even worse. For those on the autism spectrum, with ADHD, or other neurodivergencies, adding these loud noises to an already loud environment can trigger meltdowns.
I have definitely avoided going out before because I’m often left exhausted when travelling during a busy time period. Having to sift through competing noises to hear when my stop is coming up is an exhausting process, and many times I’m not able to fully engage with whatever activity I was travelling to in the first place.
You don’t have to stop making noise completely. That would be an unreasonable expectation. But just be mindful of how you’re contributing to the environment you’re in.
4. Keep an Eye Out for Buttons
Before 2016, I didn’t use a cane to get around. I was in a lot of pain while doing so, but I was not in a place where I could actually use one. I had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that if my disability wasn’t visible, it wasn’t valid. That meant that I spent years getting around without using any accommodations. And it meant that I was too afraid to ask anyone for a seat because I felt like I didn’t deserve it.
Then, right before I got my cane, I found out about a disabled artist, Kate Welsh, who created Equity Buttons for people without visible disabilities to let people around them know that they did in fact need a seat. Since then, the TTC has also started offering buttons that let people know, “Please offer me a seat.”
So the next time you see someone wearing a button like that, remember to offer your seat if you’re able to. You can even purchase ally buttons from Equity Buttons that let people around you know that they can ask you for your seat if they need one.
5. Don’t Help Anyone Without Their Permission
It feels almost a little silly that this needs to be stated, but unfortunately it does need to be stated. If you see someone on the TTC you perceive to be disabled, do not make assumptions about what kind of help they need. You should never put your hands on a person or their possessions—like mobility aids—without asking first.
This tip might seem obvious but it really isn’t. I haven’t met a wheelchair user who hasn’t experienced someone “helping” them by pushing their wheelchair without asking them first. This has led to some wheelchair users being pushed to a location that they didn’t want to be in. Plus, wheelchairs symbolise independence for many wheelchair users, and to then push them anyways diminishes the agency those people feel.
Even as a cane user, I’ve had my own experiences with people who think they are helping when they most definitely aren’t. On one subway trip, I had an older woman offer me her seat. When I declined because I was travelling two stops, she stood up, took my arm, and tried to push me into the seat anyways. I nearly lost my balance, and to be honest, with my hip pain that day sitting and standing in less than five minutes would have been more painful than standing anyways.
If you offer your help and someone declines, just smile and walk away. Trust that that individual knows their own bodies, their own needs, and their own limitations.
If you keep these tips in mind, you can make a major difference in someone else’s trip. These are just easy things that you can do while we wait for bigger systemic changes that we desperately need.
What else would make a difference for you while taking public transportation?