Accessibility in Edmonton
As a neurotypical able-bodied woman, I never gave accessibility a second thought. In 2012, all that changed in a matter of 10 minutes. While on vacation in Las Vegas, I experienced excruciating pain in my lower back which lasted a few minutes, then I couldn't move my right leg. A few minutes later, my left leg went prickly from my hip to my toes, leaving me fully paralyzed from the waist down. I could feel everything but couldn't move anything. I couldn't even sit up due to the loss of my back and core muscles, and I lost all control over my bowel and bladder. These were all things I had taken for granted before my injury. In that moment, I couldn't imagine how I would navigate a world not designed for people like me.
10 years later, I'm the co-founder and Executive Director of a rapidly growing non-profit organization called ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre, a public speaker, role model and most importantly, I am very able. Even though I have a disability and use a manual wheelchair, there is no way that I consider myself disabled. After becoming paralyzed, I had no choice but to confront the realities of accessibility and inclusion, or rather the lack thereof. However, seeing all of the accessible features that our city has to offer has given me hope that we are moving forward. Now let's get into the nitty gritty of accessibility in Edmonton!
Hawrelak Park is my favourite in the city and offers ample parking and accessibility, with two accessible bathroom shelters, water fountains, and nature trails. According to the City of Edmonton, the park's upcoming rehabilitation project is planned to begin by spring 2023. Unfortunately, full park closure for up to three years will be necessary for safety reasons, but the park will remain open for the 2023 Silver Skate Festival before the closure.
Additional Accessible Parks
Victoria Park is a great spot for those looking for accessible bathrooms and water fountains. While the park is not fully paved, it is still easily accessible. Rundle Park has accessible bathrooms in the main building, but the park has lots of hills so it's quite the workout. Fort Edmonton Park is mostly accessible, with the exception of the gravel parking lots which can be difficult to trek on. However, the park does have accessible bathrooms and the added bonus of Equine Therapy!
Edmonton is fortunate to have a selection of accessible playgrounds, with one of the best being the Jumpstart Playground by Canadian Tire in Clareview. This playground is fully wheelchair accessible and features a merry-go-round, slides, ramps, and platforms, There are picnic tables available and the bathrooms are located inside the rec centre. Siblings can play together, and this park creates an inclusive environment for all to play! Another great spot for accessible fun in the summer is the splash park at Castledowns. This park is wheelchair friendly, with great bathrooms, ample parking, and a variety of water features to keep cool on a hot summer day! To learn more about Edmonton's playgrounds, check out www.edmontonplaygrounds.net.
The River Valley
Some of the hills are steep, so plan your route before you go and don't go solo the first time. Edmonton has one of the nicest river valleys in Canada, so I was really excited when city council announced the development of the Funicular, making the river valley wheelchair accessible!
The Muttart Conservatory is a great way to have a tropical vacation year round and explore a variety of plants and trees! It offers wheelchair ramps, but they can be quite steep, so make sure you have someone to help if you are using a manual wheelchair. One of the pyramids has stairs inside, so you can only access some of the plants. The bathrooms are great here and there's a cute little café that serves delicious coffee!
Royal Alberta Museum
The Royal Alberta Museum features wheelchair accessible entrances, elevators, and ramps throughout the building. They also offer audio guides and braille guides for visitors with visual impairments. There isn't much accessible parking, but I hear the bathrooms are fantastic! There are multiple accessible washrooms, including one with a transfer lift (sling not provided) and adult change table. For visitors with sensory needs, the museum also has free Sensory Kit rentals!
TELUS World of Science IMAX theatre
The TELUS World of Science Edmonton offers ample parking and great bathrooms. Almost everything is accessible in the building! After exploring the newly-renovated exhibits, head to the IMAX Theatre to experience the largest movie screen in Alberta. The starry night theatre has space for wheelchairs but you can also transfer into the seats to give you a better experience with the 3D IMAX screen.
Parking can be tricky at Winspear Centre, but the acoustics are like nothing else! If you get the chance to see a concert here, go! The Jubilee Auditorium offers a special passageway to reach the wheelchair accessible seats, which makes you feel like a VIP. The large parkade can fill up quickly, so I would plan to arrive a bit early. The bathrooms at the Jubilee Theatre are great, but the lines can get long during big events. The Citadel Theatre has also recently undergone renovations to make the theatre more accessible, including an accessible washroom and 8 wheelchair seats in the Schocter Theatre. Heated underground parking is available for a decent price.
Rogers Place & The ICE District
The ICE District in Edmonton has lots of parking available. However, it can be costly and the lots can be difficult to navigate. On the plus side, all of the buildings in the district are connected via pedways, so you don't have to go outside during the winter months. Rogers Place has wheelchair accessible seating, but it is limited in that it only provides one additional seat for companions, which can be problematic for those attending events with family or friends, as you may have to separate and sit in different areas.
There's a long list of accessible restaurants in Edmonton. However, it's always smart to call and ask about parking, doors, bathrooms and low tables to be seated at. One notable dining option is The Workshop Eatery, located in the PRIMED Mosaic Centre. The restaurant offers several accessible parking spaces outside the front door and gladly accommodates wheelchairs. The main floor of the building also features excellent accessible single-use washrooms, with showers! Uccellino has some of the best Italian cuisine in Canada. This downtown gem is a small space that shares a bathroom with Bar Bricco. It's a little tight, but the food is worth it!
El Cortez has a bathroom on the main floor. Its patio has one step, or you can access the space through a side entrance off the street. Under The High Wheel is another great choice, located in the Roots On Whyte building. This popular brunch spot has amazing food, an accessible parking space outside the front door, and is able to move chairs and tables to accommodate a wheelchair. There are also excellent accessible single-use washrooms on the main floor.
Mayfield Dinner Theatre
The Mayfield Dinner Theatre is one of my mom's favourites! The staff make you feel welcome and accommodate your needs, and the actors are always fun, both on stage and in the crowd. The bathrooms are accessible and there is ample parking, making this a fun night out!
Accessible Dance Floors
I love a good dance party, so I encourage more wheelchair users to go out clubbing if you feel like it! However, there are things to be aware of. When a club is full, it's hard to move around, and you can get an occasional drink spilled on you while sitting, but you also get some free drinks from fellow partiers! A few of my favourite dance spots are The Cabin , El Furniture Warehouse , On the Rocks , and The Common.
The next question is, how do you get to these accessible places? You can always drive if you have the luxury to do so. Edmonton Transit System (ETS) is fairly accessible, but it can be difficult to wait outside in the winter, and not all neighbourhoods have bus access. Dedicated Accessible Transit Service (DATS) is a great program, but like anything else, it has its pros and cons. Royal Wagon specializes in safe, reliable and compassionate transportation for people with limited mobility. Their team of retro-fitted vehicles and experienced drivers aim to provide accessibility to all of their customers. This is a service you book in advance. They are reliable, friendly, and have comparative fares to taxis!
Each person's disability is different, which means accessibility means something different to everyone. Call ahead to ask your questions, and if possible, send an able bodied person who knows your needs to scope out the place. There are a few apps available that track accessibility:
- Access Now: www.accessnow.com for more details.
- The University of Alberta is working on an app called Click&Push: www.clicknpush.ca. You can also check out @clicknpush on Instagram.
Almost anything can be adapted to be more accessible and inclusive. Humans always adapt to our environment, so why is it any different if you have a disability? It shouldn't be. If you have questions about how to adapt something, reach out to myself or anyone at ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre: www.reyu.ca and we would be happy to help you out.