Mobilize March -- Travel Blog

Day 02 — Woodstock? More like Utopi-stock!

This morning began much like many of my mornings as a university student–being woken up by Pete because the alarm didn’t go off and franticly getting ready to make sure I didn’t miss my first appointment of the day. Despite this late waking, we made really good time getting to the Mayor’s office for our first meeting of the day (a whole 15 minutes early!), despite our bumbling alarm clock.

Going into this meeting I really didn’t know what to expect. Although I have been to Woodstock many-a-times in the past, I have only ever been here with my family for the annual women’s hockey tournament that my sister played in throughout her high school years. As a result, while I know a bit about the community I always had my parents accessible van with me and didn’t need to use accessible cabs or busses to get around, so I had no idea what type of system was currently operating in this community. Upon entering the Mayor’s office we were quickly brought into the Board Room and introduced to two members of the community’s Accessible Advisory Committee, who were about to tell us about accessibility in Woodstock when a young, and excited, journalist from Heart FM burst through the door.

Apparently Jeff Johnston, a reporter for Heart FM, had seen an article in the London Free Press about my March, checked out the website and discovered that not only was I in Woodstock, but I was meeting with the Mayor that very morning! So doing some quick thinking (and some crafty investigative journalism, I might add), he found out when we would be at City Hall and came running for an interview! It was a lot of fun and Mr. Johnston said he was going to pass on our information to some of his fellow journalists in Cambridge and Kitchener. Very Excting! If you’re reading this Jeff, thank you so much!

At this point, the Mayor of Woodstock arrived and it was showtime, and wow were we in for a show! I was absolutely blown away.

Here in little ol’ Woodstock, an oasis of sanity lost in a sea of nonsensical barrier-ridden communities, change is thick in the air. Not ONLY do they have 5 accessible cabs servicing a population of about 30,000, compared to the 9 cabs serving the 300,000 in London (not that we’re keeping count…), but these rides were even subsidized by the city! Holy Smokes! Mayor Harding, an educated, extremely friendly and well spoken man, literally tore the words directly out of my mouth at this meeting and made them way more sexy and exciting. The City of Woodstock has recently taken on an aggressive accessibility overhaul, bringing in more accessible cabs, more accessible busses and various other modifications around the city to ensure that it’s citizens with physical limitations have the same opportunity as everyone else. Asking the head of the Accessibility Advisory committee how receptive the city council has been to these requests, he shot us a big smile and answered “They haven’t said ‘No’ once!”

This meeting was like music to our ears. I’d love to say that Woodstock is a progressive community, but I don’t think that even begins to describe how incredible things are here. Mayor Harding explained how they found the Paratransit specialized transportation system to be confusing, problematic and generally useless, so they developed a “Para-taxi” service that allows riders to use regular cabs just like everyone else, except that the rides are subsidized so that they are paying the same as they would if they were riding the bus. This allows the riders tremendous flexibility without gouging them like certain organizations in Toronto. Furthermore, it provides benefits to the private industry that ensure they get riders, encouraging more cab drivers to invest in accessible cabs (which are also subsidized to be converted). The comprehension of the issues and the intuitive quick thinking of Woodstock City Council has brought about some pretty incredible results.

Now, I know this is beginning to sound a bit like a Woodstock infomercial (Come to Woodstock, the land of Stocked Wood! What? I don’t even know…it’s late and I have a long drive tomorrow…I’m amazed I’m even stringing sentences together at this point) and I swear I was more than a little skeptical of what I was hearing. It sounded suspiciously similar to what Western had told me before I arrived in my first year of university–”Oh yes, don’t worry Jeff, we have a fully functional accessible transportation system!” Ha. It took five years of working with the administrators of the University before setting up a truly “fully functional” system. Granted, we’ve got it done now, BUT it always sounds too good to be true when someone tells you it’s “fully functional.”

So, in honour of the guys at “Mythbusters,” we ran our own little experiment tonight to test this wondrous system the City spoke so highly of this morning. The plan was perfect–we would randomly call for an accessible cab ride shortly after dinner, around 7pm, without telling anyone about our little test and see how long it would take to be picked up and how long it would take to get to our destination. While I won’t give it ALL away (because you would have no need to watch our video blog entry this weekend!), but I will simply say that it went well and while the system is by no means “perfect,” it definitely appears to be fully functional and a DRAMATIC improvement over what I’ve seen in other communities around Ontario.

Well I’ve been babbling away for quite some time now and it’s starting to get kind of late. Ugh…it’s only 10pm and I’m getting tired…I’m turning into my parents…….this blog posting just got kind of depressing. Anyway, I should get off to bed soon, we’ve got a really long drive tomorrow to Cambridge and the weather report is looking questionable, at best, for tomorrow. If anyone who is reading this entry is driving along Drumbo Road between Woodstock and Cambridge tomorrow, feel free to give us a honk and a wave on your way by and please don’t splash me too much!

Thank you so much for a great time here, Woodstock, and I’ll see you soon real soon Cambridge!

– Jeff

Sam, Jeff and Pete in front of the big cow in Woodstock
Greetings from Woodstock

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.