At least 4 million Canadians are affected by limited mobility (hidden mobility disabilities, HMD).

The 13% of Canadian adults with limited mobility are independently mobile but can only walk a short distance (on average 15 meters) and can stand unsupported only for a brief time (1-2 minutes) without significant health consequences. One may begin walking across an open space and suddenly become immobilized by pain between one step and the next, with nowhere to sit down.

Since those with limited mobility can walk, others often assume that they can always walk any distance necessary. It can be difficult to explain that the “short distance right over there” is actually too far to walk without severe pain. It can be embarrassing to have to ask for help or to refuse to engage in walking or standing when severe pain is likely to be the consequence.

Individuals with limited mobility usually manage effectively within their home environment where they can arrange to minimize walking distances or time standing. Access barriers result from the interaction between their mobility limitations and the structure of the external environment, combined with the often unrealistic expectations of others regarding what constitutes a “short distance” or a “brief time.”

Concerns about the environment and quality of life have resulted in a focus on “walkable cities” that – unfortunately for those with limited mobility – has led to pedestrian-only streets, reduced on-street parking, and the placement of parking garages blocks away from offices and shopping venues. Each of these trends make everyday activities inaccessible to those with limited mobility.

The primary consequences for those with limited mobility are social isolation, constant self-advocacy to resist pressure to walk too far, and having to rely on others to manage distance. Not knowing ahead of time the distance to be walked can prevent people from socializing and enjoying their everyday lives unless they are assured that there will be places to sit and rest.