Confronting Canada’s Wheelchair Accessibility Gap

Access to desired destinations or services by public transit is a basic human right for residents, yet not all public transit agencies are providing that right. In countries without a strong federal accessibility act and/or with major financial constraints, some transit agencies fall behind in enforcing universal access, making it even harder for people with a physical disability to access opportunities.

In our research, we examined how accessibility levels differ between wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users in Toronto, ON and Montreal, QC, Canada, which have contrasting legislative requirements for access.


Disability Legislation in Canada

In Canada, the absence of a federal disabilities act such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) in the United States means that each provincial government is currently responsible for passing disability legislation.

The Ontario act, named the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (OADA) explicitly states that accessibility standards are to be developed, implemented and enforced on or before January 1st, 2025. The equivalent Quebec legislation provides no definitive deadline for standards to be in place, or indeed even an assertion that any standards are (or at any point will be) mandatory.

Research Findings

We used an accessibility measure, which is often defined as the ease of reaching destinations (such as jobs) by public transit to measure levels of accessibility to jobs for an individual in a wheelchair and compared these accessibility levels to the general population.

Commencing with the City of Toronto, accessibility to jobs is much higher in the areas where subway stations are located. Accessibility then decreases as distance from the CBD increases with exceptions around subway stations. Only 51% of the subway stations and 76% of the commuter rail stations in the City of Toronto are wheelchair accessible, leading to higher discrepancy in the number of accessible opportunities around inaccessible wheelchair subway and commuter stations.

A similar narrative is present in Montreal for the general population, with accessibility highest within the more central areas and those closest to the metro and commuter rail lines. Accessibility levels for a wheelchair user by contrast, demonstrates a startling drop, which is substantially greater than that revealed in Toronto. On the Island of Montreal, only 13% of the metro stations and 24% of the commuter rail stations are accessible for wheelchair users. Areas with higher levels of socially disadvantaged populations in both regions are also highlighted on the maps to identify areas where large gaps in accessibility to jobs for wheelchair users warrant priority intervention.



The findings from our study show striking contrasts between the number of accessible jobs within 45 minutes of travel time by public transport for wheelchair users compared to the general population in both regions at 8 a.m. on a weekday. Further research is needed to identify geographically appropriate remedies for these discrepancies, which significantly disadvantage residents who use wheelchairs from moving freely in the cities they live.











Written by

Emily Grise, PhD student, School of Urban Planning
Dr. Ahmed El-Geneidy, McGill University, School of Urban Planning
Genevieve Boisjoly, PhD student, School of Urban Planning
Meadhbh Maguire, PhD student, School of Urban Planning

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.