The Importance of Accessibility in Society and Sport

Pro players
min - read
By Jey Wong
Pro players
min - read
If you only have a few minutes to spare, here's what you should know:
Power Wheelchair Hockey is played in power wheelchairs using a stick and wiffle ball.
Clayton's GoFundMe is to raise money for a wheelchair accessible van that is not covered by insurance.
Decisions by insurance companies that affect disabled people are often made by able bodied people.

Hockey has always been for everyone

Clayton Theriault was born to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

His parents are fans, so cheering for the team became a normal everyday activity. In his lifetime thus far, the Leafs haven’t generated much success, but even with the departure of Kyle Dubas, he remains optimistic.

Clayton certainly has a knack for being resilient.

Not only as a die-hard hockey fan, but as a disabled person navigating the challenges of a world largely designed for and by able-bodied people.

Clayton lives with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disorder that alters the protein called dystrophin, which helps to keep muscle cells intact. This disorder leads to progressive muscular degeneration and weakness.

He uses a power wheelchair to get around and a wheelchair-accessible van to travel longer distances.

However, this hasn’t stopped Clayton from engaging in hockey as both a fan and an athlete.

Over The Glass Podcast sat down with Clayton to discuss his thoughts on the state of the Leafs, Power Wheelchair Hockey, accessibility at hockey arenas, and why he’s started a GoFundMe to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van.

*This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Clayton: My name's Clayton Theriault. I'm 30 years old. I've got a disability called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

About as long as I can remember, I've been a Leafs fan because my parents were Leafs fans. Unfortunately, they haven't really experienced much success in my lifetime, but that's okay. Hockey is pretty much a paramount thing in my life. It's always been there.

I played what's called Power Wheelchair Hockey for several years when I was 15 until I was about 18. It’s been a constant theme in my life and hockey has always been there for me.

Nessa: Can you describe what power chair hockey is like?

Clayton: I'm in a power chair. All the athletes in power hockey are in power chairs.

Basically, you drive with one hand and you have your stick in the other hand. You use a wiffle ball and the rules are pretty much the same as ice hockey. It's very similar.

It's 5-on-5 with a goalie. There are penalties like charging, high sticking, and obviously not tripping because we're all on wheels, but charging is very common. The chairs go quite fast. And if you run into somebody, they call it charging. When I played, that's what the rules were.

Nessa: What’s your experience like going to hockey games as a wheelchair user?

Clayton: Honestly, very good. I'm sure you're aware, because the Leafs are such a big market, tickets are not cheap, but the wheelchair seats at Scotiabank Arena are fantastic. I've also been to a Senators game. They're great with accessibility.

In grade 12, when I was in high school, we did a history trip to Boston, and I saw a Bruins game. They were great seats as well.

And I've seen the Coyotes in Glendale Arena, before it was called Gila River Arena.

The entire 200 section was wheelchair accessible and had wheelchair seats, which is the most I've ever seen in an NHL building. And then last, but not least, I went to a Sabres pre-season game against the Leafs. And the seats were great as well. It's been nothing, but positive memories for me with hockey.

2006 Make-A-Wish trip to meet the Arizona Coyotes. Clayton poses with hockey player Curtis Joseph.

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes

Jey: We heard that you have a bit of a situation going on right now where you need to acquire a new wheelchair van.

Clayton: Yes, correct. I can't walk at all. I rely on my chair and the van to get around. And if it's long distances, I need to be driven somewhere. My mom and my dad drive me around.

I don't have my license. It's very hard to get an adapted vehicle, and we just went through van #3. It’s a 90’s van. We knew it was only a matter of time until it died. The brakes went and then we took it in for a service and found out there's at least $10,000 worth of work and in an aging vehicle, it's just not worth it.

I've started a GoFundMe because I can't get funding for a new wheelchair van. And they're not cheap. They go for about $50,000 because they have to convert it to allow your chair to drive into the car and all the different attachments that you need in the van to strap the chair in so it doesn't move when you're driving. I'm trying to raise money. I think I've got $2,000 in a week, which is pretty good.

Slowly, but surely.

I'm just looking for any help I can get. It's not even donating it – just sharing my cause and looking around for me, asking around if anybody knows any connections. I'd appreciate any help I can get.

Even a $5 donation goes further than you think.

Jey: Can you share a “Day in the Life” with using your wheelchair van versus without having it?

Clayton: I live in a place called Oakville, Ontario, and we have what's called the Care-a-Van, and that's a bus service that picks you up at your place of residence, and brings you anywhere within Oakville you need to go.

My doctor’s in Hamilton, which is two cities over, so I could take the Care-a-Van to Burlington, which would take about 30 minutes. and then I could transfer at Burlington and go to the border of Hamilton, which would take another 30 minutes to an hour.

And then a bus to the hospital where my doctor is, but that's like three hours versus if I had a van, it would take about 30 minutes to get to my doctor.

It's not that I can't get around without it, but it's a lot more work, and with the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, I'm very weak, so I can't really lift much.

I always need someone with me, to help with certain things, whether it's in the washroom, or opening a drink, grabbing something to eat, to put it in front of me, and open the food

Clayton Theriault has always been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. We can see him in a picture with the Maple Leafs' radio commentator, Joe Bowen.

Lived experiences in the decision-making process are so important

Jey: It goes without saying that we could talk for hours and we wouldn’t come anywhere close to understanding what a day in your life is like, and the obstacles that you face, not just without a workable van, but in general. Can you give us a deeper understanding of where your situation is with insurance?

Clayton: I've got a friend named John, and he gets his stuff covered because he's a quadriplegic, but he can drive. He's got hand controls in his van. That's covered, but because my parents drive me, and I can't get my license, it's technically not mine.

Like, it should be, and it's unacceptable that it's not considered essential because like I said, a medical appointment, it shouldn't take me three hours to get to a medical appointment.

An able bodied person can get in their car, drive, and be there in 20 minutes. Whereas it would take me several hours without a van. But in terms of the insurance, because I don't drive it, the funding is a little bit complicated.

Other things like my wheelchair, because the wheelchair is for me, every five years, if your chair needs replacing the government covers it. As I said, it should be considered essential.

A lot of these decisions by insurance companies and our governments are made by people who have never been disabled nor do they know, like you said, we could talk for hours and I only know what I go through. They can empathize with it and they can have sympathy for me, but to walk a mile in someone's shoes is definitely the kicker there.

Nessa: Can you talk to us about how you think society can do better with accessibility in Canada and if you've traveled to any other countries?

Clayton: I'll give an example of something that's happened several times to me.

If a little kid approaches me and they start asking me questions, the parents are like, “No, don't,” and honestly, ask all the questions you want, and as long as it's not a rude question, most disabled people will talk to you.

Believe it or not, we are human beings. Just talk to us and raise awareness.

Please check out Clayton’s GoFundMe for his wheelchair van, share the link, and donate (if you can).

The full conversation with Clayton can be found on The Over The Glass Hockey Podcast.

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