No Barriers at the Royal Winter Fair

by Kareen Awadalla

November 18, 2008

Just outside the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto, Dwayne Griffiths was making his afternoon delivery.  Unloading a Shoppers Home Health Care truck full of wheelchairs Wednesday, Griffiths explained how each year Shoppers donates a number of wheelchairs to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair to be rented out to fair goers free of charge.  Griffiths believes that by providing wheelchairs, the fair is making accessibility just another one of its wonderful traits.

            “The generation of people which have continued to come to the fair are getting older, so it’s important to make it accessible for them. Griffiths said.  “But those who use the wheelchairs don’t have to be elder; many are young and disabled.”

In its 86th anniversary, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair attracts thousands of people young and old, giving farmers, owners, and businesses the opportunity to showcase their best. Many attendees have been coming for decades.

Heading the free rentals in the security office is David Davies, who says that in the first two days of the fair they rented out somewhere between 40 to 50 wheelchairs.  To rent the chairs, security personnel ask to hold on to a driver’s licence as collateral.

“Only one person didn’t want to give us their licence and said, ‘This is ridiculous,’ and stormed off to the Support Centre. I mean, I can’t be any more pleasant than that,” says Davies.

The Exhibitor Support Centre is another outlet for people with such accessibility needs. It is a service centre business in the venue’s hall that rents out motorized scooters for $10/hr or $60/day, wheelchairs for $5/hr or $30/day, and strollers and wagons for $10/day. Inside the Support Centre, business manager Catherine Earnhart says that they are usually busy later in the afternoon and evenings  ,after the rush of student field trips during the daytime.

“I can’t say it’s always the elderly that rent the scooters because a lot of the younger people are having problems also. It’s anyone who has back trouble or any kind of problems who can’t walk as far or as much, so we rent to a variety of ages.”

While many visitors are seniors, others are experiencing it all for the first time.  Some families with small children require strollers to be able to cover some ground of over a million sq. feet.

Working the information booth is Alexandra Breede who has been on staff for the Royal Winter Fair for four years. She says that she’s noticed more strollers coming through this year than ever before.

“Stroller rentals have gone up exponentially at the Support Centre, so on Saturdays you can’t get a stroller,” Breede warned.

Officials say the Royal Winter Fair has made many improvements in making the experience much more appealing to a wide assortment of people.. Exploring lifestyle, health and nutrition, among other things, people of all ages and abilities can see benefits in attending,  and being able to use  ramps and elevators their experience is not limited in any way.  The aisles are big enough to accommodate wheelchairs, strollers, scooters and people.

Recognising that using the facility’s elevators takes more time, some decide not to use the elevator but instead, actually take the stairs..These people can be met by volunteer ‘Stroller Heroes’ who await them at the bottom of stairs to carry down or up their

strollers. By taking on all the leg work, Breede says they’ve made it virtually impossible for people to find a reason not to go to the fair.