March draws attention to inaccessibility

Jeff Preston will drive electric wheelchair to Ottawa to raise awareness

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Jeff Preston in his wheelchair in front of an LTC bus

Justin Wu

THEY SEE ME ROLLIN', THEY HATIN'... Western student Jeff Preston is rolling to the nation's capital in order to raise awareness about accessibility limitations in the province. Hopefully he gets some solid mileage on that hog.

For the majority of Western’s population, a trip to our nation’s capital is a seven-hour drive. For grad student Jeff Preston, the journey to Ottawa will require more than 40 days of travel.

Preston isn’t taking a bus or a train; he’s driving his electric wheelchair in a campaign to raise awareness about transit accessibility in Ontario. His campaign, called the Mobilize!! March, will commence on May 5.

“This is an effort to bring some much-needed attention to inaccessibility issues,” Preston said, noting many negative experiences with public transit influenced him to make the trip.

Preston was diagnosed with Congenital Muscular Dystrophy at a young age, and has needed an electric wheelchair all his life.

As an undergraduate student in the faculty of media, information and technoculture, Preston worked to break barriers for students with physical disabilities.

During his tour of Ontario, Preston will meet with accessibility activists and challenge municipal leaders to work on community-based solutions to wheelchair accessibility problems.

“I am offering presentations to anyone who will hear me speak,” he said.

Anne Machowski, media representative for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, said the provincial and federal levels of government are already working to implement change.

In 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act ensured full accessibility by the year 2025.

“The purpose of the legislation is to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, and structures,” Machowski said. She added this will be done by developing, implementing and enforcing current accessibility standards.

Preston said these goals are admirable, but too far into the future. “It’s offensive to think the rights of disabled persons are too expensive right now,” he said.

Although the costs associated with wheelchair accessibility are steep, Preston remains positive about change: “I think the [London Transit Commission] and Voyager and Aboutown are doing a good job with the support they’re given, but we need more.”

The LTC has vowed to replace buses with accessible ones as they break down, but the process will take 10 years to complete.

To raise funds for his trans-provincial journey, Preston and his street team put together a launch party at Up On Carling last week.

“It was a tremendous event,” Preston said. “The support we’ve found is unbelievable.”

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette