Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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No Wheelchair Division At Toronto Marathon

The GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon does not have a wheelchair division. This means that athletes running marathon in either wheelchairs or handcycles are not allowed to take part.

Someone I know wanted to take part in the Toronto Marathon, but was informed they couldn’t because they use a wheelchair and there is no wheelchair division. There is no information about being able to use a regular wheelchair vs. racing wheelchairs vs. handcycles on their website. Searching the site on the words "wheelchair" or "disabled" returns no results.

A marathon official stated in an email that:

"the city of Toronto doesn’t allow [the marathon] to have a wheelchair division"

Say what??? This seems wrong. I have no problem imagining that some bureaucrat at the city of Toronto could have said wheelchairs are not allowed. But… It looks, feels and tastes like blatant discrimination.

A follow up email from the same official specified that:

"The reason that we do not have a wheelchair division is the elevation in our course."

Right, so they are saying that there are too many hills on the course. Did someone decide it is too difficult a course for wheelchair users? Wouldn’t that be a decision to be made by each athlete? There are plenty of marathon courses in the world that have good elevations. I’m thinking of the Honolulu Marathon, for one, which goes up the side of a volcano… And they do have a wheelchair division. I don’t remember Toronto being so hilly as to warrant excluding athletes who use wheelchairs and handcycles!

Looking at the race’s website, they describe the marathon course by naming all the streets it will be going over. Then it describes the half-marathon as:

"… a downhill, fast and scenic course… "

Ok, so let’s do a bit of (maybe not so wild) conjecturing. Because the course is downhill and "fast", are they perhaps afraid that wheelchair users could lose control and go too fast and bowl runners over? I say it’s not so wild because, if memory serves right, it was the reason originally given for the Montréal marathon to exclude wheelchair users.

This official kindly suggested that perhaps the athlete in question might be better served by going to a marathon in a different city. I am sure he meant well, but this smells very much of NIMBY: Not in my back yard. "Yeah, we have nothing against disabled athletes as long as they run at other events than ours".

The Toronto marathon official also said:

It is a matter that we will consider for the future.

So, which is it? Is the city of Toronto forbiding a wheelchair division? If that is the case, then the marathon officials can’t do anything about it and they have nothing to consider – it would be for the city to change their mind and rectify. If the powers-that-be deem the course too dangerous/difficult for wheelchair athletes, then they really should reconsider and look around them.

If I were an athlete using a wheelchair and interested in running the Toronto marathon, I would seriously consider lodging a formal complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.