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Making The Toronto Subway More Accessible

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the ARCH Alert, August 25, 2005.

In 1994 David Lepofsky, a transit rider and lawyer who is blind, complained to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) that subway operators did not announce all of the station stops. Although TTC management promised in 1995 that operators would call all subway stops to aid transit riders who are blind or partially sighted, it took a hearing before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ("Tribunal"), ten years later, to accomplish the task.

Over the past ten years, there has been little consistency in stops being called. Riders who are blind or partially sighted had to count stops or find other means of keeping track of where they were. In 2001, Mr. Lepofsky decided that enough was enough, and filed a formal complaint against the TTC with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. His complaint finally was heard at the Tribunal this spring.

I was there for the first day of his testimony about the unreliability of the TTC operators in announcing subway stops. He referred to TTC reports which showed that stops were being announced only 57 percent to 88 percent of the time.

The TTC replied that it was doing what it promised in 1995-calling subway stops. The TTC said that it had not promised to call every stop every time that a train entered or left a station.

I wished that I could have added my own experiences to the proceedings, as I had also been frustrated by the lack of consistency in station stop announcements over the past 10 years. I estimate that stops were being called 50 percent of the time. This is not acceptable, in my view. If 50 percent of the signs showing station names were removed on a random basis, sighted passengers would not stand for it.

At the end of the final arguments, Alvin Rosenberg, Q.C., the Tribunal adjudicator, surprised and amazed me by announcing that the TTC had failed in its duty to accommodate people who are blind or have a visual impairment for more than ten years, and that it was unfair to have the problem corrected only after he issued his decision later this year. To avoid delay, he issued an interim order that the TTC had to announce each subway stop clearly and consistently. He made it clear that he would accept no less, and that TTC employees could be fired if the announcements are not made.

The Tribunal has since issued another interim order naming Matthew Garfield, former chair of the Tribunal, as the monitor who will make sure that the TTC follows the Tribunal's orders. Mr. Garfield will work with TTC personnel in planning training seminars for subway operators and in designing programs to keep track of how often subway stops are announced.

Although there is no guarantee that things will improve overnight, we hope that the Tribunal's decision will lead to making the Toronto subway system much more accessible and easy to ride in the near future.

Note: You can find the Tribunal's interim orders in Lepofsky v. Toronto Transit Commission at: http://www.hrto.ca/english/decisions/2005%20HRTO%2020.doc and http://www.hrto.ca/english/decisions/2005%20HRTO%2021.doc

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