Romham Gallacher was getting set to leave home on Saturday morning when it became apparent something was horribly wrong.
The shed where Gallacher, who uses the pronouns they/them, keeps their motorized wheelchair had been broken into. The wheelchair was gone, along with its charger.
“I panicked,” Gallacher said over the phone from their home. “I honestly don’t know what I’m what I’m going to do.”
Gallacher quickly created some flyers to share on social media, and filed a police report in hope of recuperating the $4,000 wheelchair as quickly as possible.
CBC News contacted the Vancouver police about the missing chair but did not get an immediate response.
‘I can’t go do anything’
At home in East Vancouver, near Victoria Drive and Venables Street, Gallacher can get around on a couple of forearm crutches.
But to leave Gallagher needs their motorized wheelchair to do everything from buy groceries to attend choir practice.
“It completely changes my life,” Gallacher said, crying. “I can’t go do anything.”
Gallacher suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis that affects the spine, and lives off of disability payments. Money to buy the wheelchair about a year ago came from a small inheritance when Gallacher’s parents died.
“I knew that I would be needing it for a long time and I wanted to get something that would really work for my body,” Gallacher said, adding that the lightweight, customized wheelchair fits better than mobility scooters they’ve used in the past.
Buying a new one isn’t financially feasible.
No questions asked
Gallacher says friends and community members have been helpful — putting up flyers, searching for the wheelchair and dropping by with groceries. Some have even offered to host a fundraiser.
But until Gallacher can get their motorized wheelchair back, any sort of outing is put on hold.
Gallacher says they hope the thief will return the wheelchair, no questions asked.
“I have no desire to criminalize anyone over this,” they said. “I just need my legs back.”
Metro Vancouver Transit Police have released video and photos of a woman they say stole an iPhone out of the hands of a teen in a wheelchair.
The 19-year-old man with physical disabilities was travelling aboard the 96 B-Line bus from Guildford Mall to Newton on the morning of Sept. 12. When the bus stopped at 80th Avenue and King George Boulevard in Surrey, a woman approached him and grabbed his phone.
“After a brief struggle, the victim, who is paralyzed in one hand, could no longer hold on and the suspect was able to rip the phone from his grip and step off the bus,” Transit Police Sgt. Clint Hampton said in a statement.
The crime was captured by the bus security camera.
Metro Vancouver Transit Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying a suspect who allegedly stole a mobile phone from a young man with physical disabilities.
Transit police handout
Police say the victim was on his way to Kwantlen Polytechnic University, where he is working toward improving his independence and job skills.
“His mobile phone meant a great deal to him as the large screen of the iPhone 6S helped make texting and reading easier for him,” Hampton said. “Given the circumstances, the officers investigating this file helped to pay off the outstanding debt on the phone, in order for the victim to acquire a new phone.”
The alleged phone thief is described as white, around 5-feet-4, with a slim build and blond hair. She was wearing a brown and green hoodie, brown and green running tights and green running shoes.
Anyone with information about her identity — along with anyone who witnessed the incident — is asked to contact the police tip line at 604-516-7419 and refer to File No. 2019-16866.
Two weeks ago, Gabrielle Peters spent a rare day out in Vancouver with friends. They took in a cultural festival in the afternoon, then headed for dinner at a restaurant Peters had always wanted to try.
“As soon as we sat down, my anxiety started. In the back of my mind was, ‘I’m going to have to call a taxi,’ and that’s likely to be not a good experience,” she remembered.
Peters uses a wheelchair. It’s always a challenge to find a taxi that will take her, but she says the night of July 20 was the worst it’s ever been.
She and her friends say she was refused by multiple drivers with accessible vehicles who dropped off passengers while she was waiting in front of the restaurant.
Meanwhile, she was dealing with serious back pain from a day spent wheeling over uneven surfaces. The restaurant didn’t have a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, so she desperately needed a toilet.
“Drivers are giving me the, ‘No no no no no no’ and driving away,” Peters said.
This wonderful driver from Richmond Taxi helped me transfer into his regular taxi. <a href=”https://twitter.com/bambinoir?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@bambinoir</a> and the club staff started chasing taxis and he felt so bad for what we’ve been through he insisted my ride is free. Meet Mohit – the greatest cab driver in BC <a href=”https://t.co/0XKi7h9uZL”>pic.twitter.com/0XKi7h9uZL</a>
Mohit kept apologizing and we all told him it’s not his fault. <br><br>Mohit: I know but we’re a community and people shouldn’t be treated this way. <br><br>I started to cry. I really wasn’t sure how I was going to get home. Mohit is the hero we needed tonight.
But this isn’t a story about one horrible night in the life of a woman who uses a wheelchair. This is a story about all the frustrating nights, mornings and afternoons disabled people have trying to find reliable transportation in Vancouver.
Other wheelchair users who spoke to CBC for this story confirmed they’re frequently refused cab service, and said they believe drivers prefer to use the extra space in accessible taxis to carry tourists’ luggage.
They say the situation is even more desperate for wheelchair users who also happen to be poor or people of colour, and the situation isn’t likely to improve when Uber arrives in B.C.
“This is part of a larger problem, and all the solutions that they’re proposing are not solutions for this particular problem,” Peters said.
“We’re innovating on a cracked foundation, and we’re not really solving the root of a lot of these problems for a lot of people,” said Yasin, who is co-chair of the Canadian Institute of Planners’ social equity committee and speaks on inclusive infrastructure.
Ride-hailing is set to begin in B.C. in the fall, and companies like Uber and Lyft will have to pay a 30-cent fee for every trip in a non-accessible vehicle.
The revenue is meant to support more accessible transportation options, but officials at the transportation ministry say they haven’t yet determined how the funds will be allocated.
‘I’ve hidden behind the bushes’
Vancouver Taxi Association spokesperson Carolyn Bauer told CBC she’d like to speak with Peters about her experience, and find a way to make things right. That includes holding the drivers who passed her by accountable — Bauer said all taxi companies have penalties for discriminating against disabled passengers.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to provide timely transportation services to everyone, and will continue to work diligently to ensure we live up to this obligation,” Bauer wrote in an email.
The B.C. Transportation Ministry notes it’s strengthened penalties for businesses and drivers that fail to follow the Taxi Bill of Rights, which prohibit discriminating against people with disabilities. Fines of up to $50,000 can now be issued for anyone who does not comply, and licences can be suspended or cancelled.
So far this year, the Passenger Transportation Branch, which regulates taxis, has four complaints on file related to excessive wait times for people with wheelchairs that resulted in trip cancellations. Peters says the complaint process is difficult to navigate, a subject she’s written about in the past.
Peters is not alone in her experiences with cabs.
Bronwyn Berg lives in Chemainus, but has similar stories from her visits to Vancouver. She says she’s had taxis speed past her while the driver yells “no wheelchairs!” out the window.
That’s why Berg never lets the dispatcher know she has a wheelchair when she calls for a cab — something that wouldn’t be possible if she used a power chair.
When she’s hailing from the street, “if I’m with one of my adult children, they’ll say, ‘No one’s going to stop for us unless you hide.’ I’ve hidden behind the bushes and around the corner while they hail a cab.”
‘A really hopeless, desperate feeling’
The consequences for a person’s quality of life are hard to fathom for anyone who doesn’t have to deal with this on a daily basis.
The cost of a wheelchair-adapted vehicle is out of reach for many people, and public transit can be extremely uncomfortable, depending on the disability. HandyDART service, meanwhile, has to be booked a day in advance.
“You have a whole different metric for whether or not you’re going to go out,” Peters explained.
“I start off by being excited that I have this opportunity to go do something, and then I start thinking about all of the various barriers between getting there and being there and getting home … and suddenly start going, you know what, I’m not worth it.”
Berg points out that reliable transportation is also a crucial part of staying safe.
According to Statistics Canada, disabled Canadians are almost twice as likely to be victims of violent crime, and disabled women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted.
“There is a really hopeless, desperate feeling if you’re in a city and it’s dark and late and you cannot get home,” Berg said.
If the situation is going to improve, Peters believes wheelchair users need to be at the table when any sort of transportation policy is under discussion. Accessibility should be built into the system from the beginning, not padded on as an afterthought.
“You need to start with us,” she said.
Rather than the province’s current focus on increasing the supply of wheelchair-accessible cabs, Peters wants tougher rules to ensure drivers will actually pick up wheelchair users — and handle both people and their chairs with care, an issue worthy of its own story.
She’s especially skeptical about the introduction of ride-hailing in B.C. this fall.
Uber and Lyft depend on drivers using their own vehicles, which means wheelchair-accessible cars are few and far between. And ride-hailing companies generally don’t require hands-on training for dealing with wheelchairs.
“What we need is more regulation, not less,” Peters said. “What we need is more training, not less. We need rules.”
Vancouver police are asking the public for help identifying two people connected to the serious assault of man in a wheelchair earlier this month.
According to police, a 44-year-old Vancouver resident was left with serious injuries after being attacked in the underground parking lot of an apartment building on Cecil Street near Kingsway on July 4.
On Wednesday, police released images of two people captured on a CCTV camera near the scene of the assault. The pair have not been named as suspects, but VPD investigators believe they may have useful information about the incident nevertheless.
“The VPD believes the two individuals in the photos, a man and a woman, may have information about this assault. We are hopeful that the public can assist us in identifying the pair,” said Sgt. Jason Robillard.
While the images are grainy, the male in the photo is believed to be a white man with a slim build and blonde hair. He was wearing a denim jacket, a shirt with a large “O” on the front, black shorts, black flip flops, and a black baseball hat. The woman, also believed to be Caucasian, has a medium build and orange or blonde hair. She was wearing a black, cropped top, a red jacket, green camouflage-print capri pants, and sandals.
Anyone who may recognize the couple in the photos is asked to call the VPD.
Weeks after a man in a wheelchair was attacked in East Vancouver, police have released surveillance images of two people investigators believe might have information on the crime.
The victim was assaulted on the morning of July 7, in the underground parking lot of an apartment building on Cecil Street. Authorities said the attack left the 44-year-old in serious condition in hospital.
On Wednesday, the Vancouver Police Department shared images of a man and woman that were captured on a CCTV camera in the area, and asked anyone with information on their identities to come forward.
“The VPD believes the two individuals in the photos, a man and a woman, may have information about this assault. We are hopeful that the public can assist us in identifying the pair,” Sgt. Jason Robillard said in a statement.
Authorities have not described either of the people in the images as suspects in the attack.
The man is believed to be white, with a slim build and blonde hair. He was wearing a denim jacket, a shirt with a large “O” on the front, black shorts, black flip-flops and a black baseball hat.
The woman is also believed to be white, with a medium build and shaggy orange or blonde hair. She was seen wearing black cropped top, a red jacket, green camouflage-print Capri pants and sandals.
Police urged anyone with information that could help investigators solve the disturbing attack to contact the department’s Major Crime Section at 604-717-2541.
Sean Haffey, a stroke survivor, is in an accessible suite designed for people in wheelchairs thanks to The Right Fit. Photo: Nick Procaylo/PostMedia Nick Procaylo / PNG
Sean Haffey likes being able to cook again in his new apartment.
His last one just wasn’t designed for someone like him in an electric wheelchair. Living there meant he was reduced to microwave meals. Despite its limitations, he had no choice at the time but to move in.
After suffering a stroke that paralyzed him on his left side when he was in his mid-40s, Haffey spent six months in rehabilitation at GF Strong. When that came to an end, he spent a short while in transition housing before moving into a senior’s building in the West End.
He was so young in comparison to the other residents he had to get special permission to move in.
Now, he has a kitchen. The counters are low so he can roll his wheelchair in close. The oven is on a wall and higher than a standard oven that opens from the front. Instead, it has a door that opens to the side — making it safe when handling hot foods for someone in a wheelchair.
He also has a courtyard garden facing south he can easily access by opening a door.
When he’s asked how much better his new place at Alexander House is, Haffey hesitates, then says: “In so many ways.”
Haffey, 51, works as a building accessibility assessor for the Rick Hansen Foundation. He pays $320 a month for his subsidized suite.
It took him three years to get into this wheelchair accessible rental apartment.
Haffey recognizes that his long wait was complicated by the region’s housing crisis.
“I feel very lucky that not only were they able to find a place for me but that it turned out to be so affordable,” he said.
He’s in the unit because of a new program called The Right Fit Pilot Project that matches people in wheelchairs with rental units designed with their unique needs in mind. In the first phase of the program, Haffey is one of five people who have been matched with accessible units administered by BC Housing.
“If it hadn’t been for Right Fit, I don’t know when B.C. Housing would have contacted me,” Haffey said.
“It’s great there is a program designed to make sure that wheelchair accessible units go to people who need them.”
Dalton Finlay, The Right Fit project manager, said one of the challenges finding accommodation for people in wheelchairs was that there aren’t a lot of accessible rental suites in Metro Vancouver.
On top of that, in some cases, people who are able bodied are living in the limited supply of units designed for people in wheelchairs.
“Primarily, our goal is to match wheelchair users with accessible units,” Finlay said.
“There is a very, very low turnover rate when it comes to finding accessible units — something like four per cent a year. They’re very hard to come by.”
According to B.C. Housing, the total number of wheelchair accessible rental units in Metro Vancouver is 430; every year, about 450 people in wheelchairs find themselves looking for accessible subsidized units.
In the past, Alexander House would have gone directly to B.C. Housing for a tenant. If that had happened and given Vancouver’s tight housing market, Haffey’s accessible unit could easily have gone to someone able bodied.
“The people who manage Alexander House heard of Right Fit and said: ‘We’d like to work with you, ” Finlay said.
The Right Fit has a growing database of 60 people in wheelchairs who are looking for rental units.
‘We’re there for the whole process from start to finish,” he said.
“If there is anything they don’t understand or that the housing provider needs assistance with, we’re been there from the get go”
The Right Fit, which started in 2017, is moving into a second phase to include people who aren’t on disability income and can afford to pay more for monthly rent.
If the pilot project goes well, and all signs point in that direction, the idea is to expand it to all of B.C. and then across the country.
“So far, it’s going great,” Finlay said. “It has been picking up. We’re getting more vacancies.”
Finlay knows about the challenges of finding accessible accommodation. His mother is in a wheelchair. It took her five years to find a place to live.
“This line of work hits home for me,” he said. “I’ve seen the struggle. B.C. Housing is great, but the length of wait is too long for people in wheelchairs.”
Last Saturday afternoon, a disturbing incident occurred on a street in Nanaimo involving a female wheelchair user. It’s the type of incident many disabled people say happens often on our streets and public spaces.
Bronwyn Berg had just left a store on Fitzwilliam Street when a man grabbed her wheelchair from behind and began pushing her rather quickly. She turned, looked directly at him and said “no, no, no.”
But the man didn’t stop. Berg screamed, “stop” twice and called out for help. Passersby on the street looked away, or at their phones, she said.
Finally, the man let go and ran away.
Later, she shared the frightening experience on social media, which elicited an outpouring of support. Many people posted angry reactions to the Nanaimo man’s actions.
Berg says she has no idea what the man’s intentions were and believes that focusing on that misses the point.
“The point is never, ever touch a wheelchair without asking,” Berg said. Aside from the risk of injury, she says the more fundamental issue is one of consent and body autonomy.
“Our assistive devices are a part of our body. We aren’t furniture that can be moved around.”
‘I didn’t need help’
The lack of support from passersby also left Berg shaken. “I thought I’m alone here. I’m not safe in this world…I felt invisible.”
She doesn’t know why the man approached her, “I didn’t need help and wasn’t asked,” she said, adding that when she did ask for help, people ignored her.
If you see a person in a wheelchair (especially a woman) being pushed by someone and she’s screaming Stop! No! Help! For the love of humanity help her!<br>A guy grabbed my wheelchair today and just started pushing me, not a single passerby helped even though I was screaming for help
As a wheelchair user myself, I know what it’s like to have strangers push me without asking — even when I tell them to stop.
Once, an impatient taxi driver pushed me without warning, causing my wheelchair to tip and throwing me onto the pavement outside Vancouver General Hospital.
When I became disabled, the goalposts for consent and support for my autonomy and rights shifted
“The point is never, ever touch a wheelchair without asking,” says Bronwyn Berg. (Submitted by Bronwyn Berg)
Strangers demand to know, “What happened to you?’ or “‘Why can’t you walk?”
Our needs are ignored by the physical, social and political environment we exist in. It is little wonder people don’t ask before grabbing us. Disabled people aren’t seen as fully human.
What is the cumulative impact is of being touched without consent and met with hostility when you tell people to stop? Are these experiences helpful for a demographic already at risk?
Statistics show disabled women are twice as likely as non-disabled women to be the victim of a violent crime.
Once on Denman Street in Vancouver, I felt the hands of a man on my back. My wheelchair has no handles, yet people still push me. I struggled with my gut that said he was a threat, and the fact I’d had to learn not to react with hostility when grabbed.
Later that day, I saw the man’s face again on Twitter. The tweet was from VPD. He was a serial sex offender, considered at high risk to re-offend, who had failed to return to his halfway house.
Our struggle is not new but social media has provided disabled people with a new way to connect, share and organize.
Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist and campaigner in London, England started the #JustAskDontGrab campaign last August.
Kavanagh said she launched the campaign after she became a white cane user and people started grabbing her on her commute.
After hearing from others with similar experiences, Kavanagh created #JustAskDontGrab to educate people on how to behave when they encounter disable
“I encouraged people to use the hashtag to raise awareness of the issue and how to offer assistance in a positive respectful way.”
Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist and campaigner in London, England started the #JustAskDontGrab campaign last August. (Submitted by Gabrielle Peters)
Kavanagh does not want people to stop asking disabled people if they need help. Once, when the front caster of my wheelchair became wedged while crossing an inactive railway track, I was grateful when a passerby asked if I needed help.
Which raises the question of whether assistance would be needed if our cities were more accessible to disabled people.
Removing existing barriers and preventing the building of new ones is the motivation behind accessibility legislation in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba. British Columbia has none.
Berg’s perspective on accessibility has changed. The steps in front of three stores on Fitzwilliam street in Nanaimo prevented Berg from entering the first businesses she turned to for safe refuge.
“It used to mean that I wasn’t allowed to fully participate in the world. I often felt unwelcome, but now it feels dangerous,” Berg said. “No one would intervene and I couldn’t get to a safe place.”
Berg has not gone out alone since it happened. “I don’t think I’ll ever return to that area of town.”
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