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Free wheeling

Three-year-old Noah is not accustomed to wheeling around without encountering barriers. On his first visit to the AGO, he was delighted by how easily he could explore.

Noah is sitting in his wheelchair at the Mindful Makers exhibit at the AGO.

Photo by Ivona Novak

When Ivona Novak brought her three-year-old son Noah to the AGO for the first time, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Noah has been paralyzed since he was six months old as a result of pediatric cancer, and he and his family have been encountering accessibility challenges on a daily basis ever since.

According to Ivona, accessibility issues are everywhere, even in a city as big as Toronto. “For example, most playgrounds aren’t wheelchair accessible (wood chips), and a lot of business will have one or more steps to get inside, or there isn’t enough room to move around in a wheelchair,” she says. “Noah’s public school isn’t accessible, or even our bus stop. And then you have smaller things that may affect little kiddos more, like thick carpets, or cracks and potholes in the sidewalks.”

Small boy in wheelchair in the AGO's Walker Court
Photo by Ivona Novak

So when Ivona and Noah were offered tickets to the AGO through its Community Membership Program, she wasn’t sure what to expect. But when arriving, she was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to navigate through the museum with Noah’s wheelchair, from the front doors all the way into the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre.

Noah loved going up and down the ramp at the Main Entrance and was entranced by the Hands-On Centre where he liked playing with trains. In the Mindful Makers area, he enjoyed making crafts by cutting up pieces of coloured tape. Then they checked out the Thomson Collection of Ship Models, with Noah saying, “Wowwwwww, that boat is ENORMOUS!” They explored other levels of the museum looking at art and sculptures, and then finished with another few whooshes up and down the curved ramp.

“I was really struck by the fact that the accessibility accommodations aren’t ‘obvious’, but are included in the aesthetic of the Gallery,” says Ivona. “From the perfect height of the play tables to the wide hallways and many ramps, Noah had a fantastic time wheeling around exploring. He didn’t want to leave!”

Through its Community Membership Program, the AGO offers free admission to hundreds of not-for-profit organizations serving communities across Toronto. In this case, it was the Starlight Children’s Foundation that provided tickets to Ivona and Noah. Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada is dedicated to brightening the lives of seriously ill children and their families by bringing them joy, laughter and relief through a variety of programs and events.

Click here to read more about Noah’s journey. Visit the AGO website to learn more about accessibility at the museum.

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