Sunday, 23 February 2014

Eight Hours Stolen

Sometimes you plan, ask the questions, do everything right, and things still work out wrong. Sometimes you do all you can to make sure that all you need is in place, and then, at that critical moment, you find something is missing. I find this happens most often when dealing with people who really don't understand the requirements you need. For me, these days, this most often happens around wheelchair access. Yesterday was a good example.

It's been a bit chaotic around my apartment lately, with renovations going on. I haven't had a shower in place for a couple of weeks now and even the toilet was removed last Tuesday. Given the turmoil, I had thought it would be a good weekend to get away for a night. My plan was to go to Waterton Lakes National Park, a jewel set in the southwest corner of Alberta, deep in the foothills, right up next to the steeply rising slopes of the Rockies eastern edge.

In preparation I called the Waterton Lakes Lodge, asking if they had a wheelchair accessible room, one with a roll in shower and proper access for someone in a wheelchair. The nice young lady at the lodge said she wasn't sure, so she would go ask the manager and call me back. I was surprised once again that the person at the front desk had no idea about the facilities at the hotel, but then again, this happens a lot. Most people would be surprised to know that many front desk staff in hotels rarely, if ever, actually go into the rooms they are renting out. Nonetheless, the young lady checked and did call back. Sure enough they had a wheelchair accessible room, one with a roll in shower, and it was available for the night. I reserved it.

The drive from Calgary to Waterton is about three and a half hours. I took about four hours, detouring to go the longer way, through Cardston and Leavitt, two smaller towns in southern Alberta. I stopped along the way for a snack, and generally enjoyed the drive through the rolling prairie countryside. As I got closer to Waterton the snow became deeper and the mountain version of winter began to make its presence known.

Arriving in Waterton, I took a few minutes to drive around the village. Most of the cabins and homes are shut down for the winter, as are most of the smaller inns and motels. Only two lodges remain open for the winter, the Waterton Lakes Lodge being one of them. The rest of the town is snuggled deep in snow, icicles hanging from eaves, walkways drifted deep in white. The roads are narrowly ploughed, the park completely abandoned to winter, awaiting the warmth of spring to clear the benches and campgrounds. It was as picturesque as you can imagine, with apple cheeked children playing in the snow and couples walking the deeply set pathways hand in hand, kicking up the lumps of white cloud as they passed by.

I pulled into the lodge parking lot, parked as close to the door as possible and got out. The lot was covered in snow but it was packed hard enough that, with a bit of effort, I could move across the snow by popping my front wheels up and forcing the chair forward. I made it to the door, hit the wheelchair access button to open them, and rolled into the lobby. There an inviting fire, warm stone hearth, and pleasant staff awaited me.

It was at this moment when I got my first hint of trouble. I said to the gentleman at the front desk "I hope you don't mind; I parked pretty close to the door." His response marked the moment. "No problem", he said "you will be moving it in a minute when you drive to your building." This was the moment when I realized that my accommodations were not within the lodge building, but in a separate "cabin" nearby. My first response was to think about how I was going to get from my room to the lounge in the lodge main building. I said to the clerk, "I guess I will be driving to and from the lounge."

At that point he looked at me and I could see the wheels start to turn. He had begun to think about how I was going to get to and fro at the lodge with a foot of snow on all the pathways. He said something about getting someone from housekeeping to help me, but then thought about it some more. He called the manager. When the manager arrived he looked at me, looked at my wheelchair, looked at the snow, looked back at me and simply shook his head. He said "There is no way you can get into the building with all this snow."

I asked him about clearing the snow. He said their snow clearing bobcat was out of service until Monday, and heavy snows were expected overnight. In addition the parking lot for the handicapped building was covered in snow and there was a steep slope up to the door of the building, also covered in deep snow. Apparently their handicapped access is only available in the summer.

I asked him why the girl would book me into a room when there was no access. He tried to defend her actions, saying she must have thought I had an attendant or was confused about what I meant by wheelchair access, to which I responded by saying that I had been very clear. Basically he tried saying it was my fault. He was right, in part. I have learned never to believe hotel staff when asking about wheelchair access. They almost always get it wrong. You have to ask them the most basic, simple questions. Often they answer without actually knowing the reality; they just assume.

At this point I had two choices; I could drive up to Pincher Creek and stay at the roadside Ramada, a hotel with no other services, although there was a Boston Pizza on the next block; or I could just drive home the three and a half hours to Calgary. I drove home, defeated by stupidity, feeling like another battle had been lost with eight hours taken out of my life for no return.


  1. What can we do, Richard? We want to raise awareness but dont know how to start. I guess we start with ourselves, but where do we go from there?

    1. Freida, the best thing you can do is simply to ask, everywhere you go, every restaurant you eat at, every place you stay, what their wheelchair access is like. It's about raising awareness more than anything. The next step is to lobby our MP's for a national standard similar to the ADA in the US.