Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Wheelchair use and non-dog service animal in Toronto
alicorn24 wrote in little_details
I'm planning to write two characters who live in Toronto and use wheelchairs (they can walk, but it's safer if they don't try). One of them also has a (sapient-but-pretending-not-to-be-to-regular-people, magical, well-behaved and responsive to his person's verbal instructions) cat, who prefers to accompany her when she's out and about. What should I expect Canadian wheelchair-using characters (usually in Toronto, with visits to Grand Forks, BC) to experience that might be different from what I learn about the American experience of same? Will a lot of establishments refuse the cat entry, can he legally count as a service animal and if so is there a certification process (he does get things off shelves for his person and perform other tasks), should he wear a vest to indicate same?

I'm also curious about what the experience of getting the wheelchairs through Canada's healthcare system would have been like; they would have started using chairs when they were little kids.

(Adding search information per mod request: I googled things like "Canada service animal" and "Canadian disability law" and kept getting American results, or sometimes dog-specific results, often both. I eventually found the Ontarians With Disabilities Act but it didn't tell me what I needed to know.)

MOD NOTE: I approved this because you are mostly seeking personal experiences, but please add search terms in order to comply with the rules.

Edit: Thanks!

Edited at 2014-04-02 07:05 am (UTC)

Look up Dave Hingsburger's blog. He educates on disability issues and is a wheelchair user lliving in Toronto, mentioning loads of disability issues over the years. A very educational read.

Seconding Dave's blog- he's a great resource AND an amazing guy.

REALLY foggy recollection on Canadian service animal laws is that here is a national law that guarantees the right to use one for a disabled person but doesn't grant access automatically, and that it's governed past that on a provincial basis for public access.

My wheelchair-using Canadian friend (used manual chairs as a kid, now uses a power chair) said that she was always given wheelchairs of reasonable quality and suited to her needs...but there was often quite a long wait between request and delivery. This was a problem when she was growing and also after surgeries. She couldn't get two without paying for the extra one so that when one was being repaired she still had one to use.

You can get mobility devices like scooters and wheelchairs through the local stores that sell them. They set up the physiotherapist appointment to assess the proper device and the size etc. It is either free or subsidized depending on the income of the person.

Often if it is someone with a long history of using devices they are already in the system and a specialist or family doctor is checking with them frequently and assessing their needs. We don't have it all down pat but the accommodation for disabled people is pretty good in the city.

This information is based on a friends experience who has CP and has gone from canes, to a walker, and a wheeled device as the need has progressed. She had very savvy parents however, step dad was a chiropractor, and she is a university student studying neuroscience so she might have a better access to, and better experience with, the system than some.

Any animal that fits on a lap or a small bag is pretty much tolerated anywhere except restaurants, regardless of their "function". Large service animals are all licensed. They are mature, and fully trained when they go to a client. The cost is subsidized by donations, provincial agencies and communities. The animals are trained for specific duties and they wear a vest when out in public.

The local health department has told me that only a Seeing Eye Dog can be admitted to my place of business where I serve food. If I follow those regulations, am I in violation of service animal legislation?
A: Yes. You are in violation of not providing equal and fair access to people with disabilities other than blindness if you refuse them and their service animal admission to your premises. A person with another type of a disability that requires the assistance of their service animal holds the same and equal right to enter your establishment with their service animal as a person that is blind using a seeing-eye dog to assist them. Think of it as allowing a person that is blind to come inside your restaurant with their white cane. You wouldn't deny a person that is hard of hearing entry unless they removed their hearing aid and left it outside of your restaurant while they dined inside? Of course not! Service animals are an assistive device to a person with a disability that cannot be separated from their owner.

That is from http://www.crtasa.com/faq.php




Thanks - a couple clarifying questions about the cat:

Since the cat is magical (it is not, actually, a cat, just usually looks like one) she certainly doesn't acquire him through official channels of any kind. Even her parents aren't actually going to know where he came from. Does this produce a hiccup with getting a vest, licensing, getting any kind of necessary official permission, etc.? Does a housecat-looking-magical-creature count as a "large" animal?

She doesn't strictly speaking have to have the cat to perform daily life activities. While she can and does send him to get things off of high shelves, or whatever, he would be of no obvious non-magical use to her in a restaurant. Assuming he sits placidly in her lap the entire time a) will a lot of restaurants try to boot him, b) if they do, is it legal (whether she decides to make a fuss about it is a separate question but I'd like to know), c) if she tells him to wait for her outside, and he does, does anything happen except people walking by the restaurant looking at him funny while he hangs out?

I'm pretty sure the cat would be an issue in most places, since dogs are generally recognized as service animals but cats are not (for the perfectly sensible reason that they're vastly harder to train). So they'd have to keep proving themselves by putting the cat through its paces for any skeptical shop owner or employee who told them "pets aren't allowed in here!" Some kind of official looking service vest would certainly help, though.

A quadriplegic friend of mine here in southern Ontario gets a new power chair and a new lift van at carefully regulated intervals that are often too far apart to be useful (right now his van is falling apart but he can't get another one yet -- and I think it's been close to ten years that he's had it) but they are funded by the health system. Accessibility is still an ongoing and frustrating issue, though. Many times places that claim to be accessible really aren't because of bad maintenance of ramps, locked doors, broken lifts, and places within the building that are only accessible by steps. Universities and hotels can be especially terrible for this.

Yeah, I'm definitely imagining her rolling her eyes and instructing her familiar to perform a variety of tricks ranging from "meow" through "go get me a package of mochi out of the freezer aisle, the pistachio kind" all the way to "get my phone out of my purse and call my mom" on demand but she'd rather skip it as often as possible.

I work at a Canadian museum which will remain unnamed, but service animals (regardless of type) are allowed in only if the owner has their registration card AND the animal is wearing their working vest. That said... we turn a blind eye to home made cards and vests all the time, because if someone's put that much effort in then we assume that they do need the animal it just couldn't be registered for whatever reason.

How do you obtain a non-homemade card/vest?

The last time this happened the vest was hand made and the card was an old parking pass which had been altered and re-laminated.

Chiming in to say that I work at a (presumably) different Canadian museum, and we also require service animals to have registration cards before they're admitted to the museum. I haven't personally seen any home-made cards but it doesn't surprise me that they'd exist.

I'd also be inclined to suggest that the 'cat' could save a lot of irritation from shop staff by curling up in a side pocket or under a throw over your characters lap. Either allow said fur ball to slip out if needed but means she/he/it is not on constant and potentially irritating display as people ask a string of questions about 'the kitty in the bright yellow service vest'

As a Toronto resident, I don't think I've ever seen anyone with an obvious-service-animal cat; but I've seen plenty of people (in and out of wheelchairs) with cats either in carriers or on leashes without drawing comment. Restaurants might object, but I stopped in a McDonald's once with my cat in a carrier and no one seemed to notice.

So, basically seconding the idea that the not-cat might be better off just keeping out of sight, say in a large purse; or failing that, as long as it doesn't appear to be wandering around loose your characters can probably get away with it in most places.

Using a wheelchair sucks in Toronto. I know there are worse places, but it's pretty bad here.

One thing that surprises me every time I go to the States is how accessible things are relative to Canada. You guys have worse healthcare but much better accessibility legislation than we do.

Specific things: Many subway stations are still not wheelchair-accessible. Even with the ones that are, half the time the elevator is broken down. Wheel-Trans is terrible; you need to book to the second quite far in advance and there's no flexibility if you happen to be running late.

Most restaurants are not wheelchair accessible, especially downtown. Real estate is expensive, so washrooms tend to be upstairs or downstairs, and there are random steps at the entrance just to mess with people, and many doorways are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs.

Finding an accessible apartment can be a nightmare. Many cheaper rental places are above shops. Your characters would likely live in a high-rise if they're anywhere near downtown.

My step-dad had a manual wheelchair and the general state of disrepair of the sidewalks made it pretty hard to get around.

Homecare supports suck big time in my experience, though your characters may fare better than I did if their disabilities are permanent. When I was temporarily but seriously disabled, I was told in my condition, I'd have qualified for homecare if I were a senior but because I was in my 30s, I was SOL. This is a Toronto-specific problem.

Even where buildings are legally accessible, you can still run into all kinds of problems. This is a post I wrote about the experience of navigating the redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario in a manual wheelchair.

In terms of the cat, are cats generally service animals in your universe? If so, he'd be fine; service dogs are allowed anywhere. If it's not a usual thing in your universe, I still think he'd be okay in a lot of places, restaurants excepted. I used to bring my cat to the café down the street all the time and no one had a problem. Especially in the more laid back neighbourhoods, I think people would be more, "AWW KITTY" than anything else.

P.S. Hey you! :)

Edited at 2014-04-02 01:32 am (UTC)

Hey you! The universe doesn't have generally-known magic; the cat is not even really a cat; so people will have Earth-normal reactions to him unless they're magic-people themselves and can tell he is a secret noncat (in which case they might try to use legal means to make life inconvenient for Our Heroine, but mostly if they are also inclined to, like, murder her given the chance; there is a lot of hostility afoot.)

I shall read your post! It looks like she's going to have a tricky juggling act balancing the hassle of finding places to roll, and dealing with getting up and walking, which she can do (if at significant risk of falling) but then she'd have to deal with anyone who saw her doing it and had personal questions. Maybe half the cat's service animal job is finding elevators...

Also -- my spouse has some mobility issues -- one Toronto thing (maybe a N. American thing generally) is that most non-chain restaurants downtown have the washrooms stuck down in the basement at the bottom of a narrow, rickety flight of stairs; together with restaurants having to forbid entry to any non-service animals; I'd say they're pretty much no-go areas for your characters unless there's a really pressing plot reason.

This map may also be relevant to your interests.