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Accessibility Issue Needs Urgent Attention in Whitby, Says Walk Organizer

Whitby woman wants Town to improve access from Heydenshore Pavilion to Waterfront Trail Sabrina Byrnes / Metroland

WHITBY — Janet Hussey is concerned about limited accessibility from Heydenshore Pavilion to the waterfront trail. She hosted a walk for chiari awareness in September and found participants with mobility issues struggled to access the trail. January 28, 2015

HOW THIS IMPACTS YOU

Heydenshore Pavilion at 589 Water St. is a municipally owned facility located within 15 acres of scenic parkland in Heydenshore Kiwanis Park on the shore of Lake Ontario, adjacent to the Waterfront Trail. Thousands of people of all ages venture to the site for a variety of community walks every year, including the Canadian Cancer Society’s Taking Steps Against Breast Cancer, Terry Fox Run and Family Day, and Humane Society of Durham Region’s Furry Friends 5K.

The Town of Whitby has an accessibility advisory committee that advises and assists council in developing strategies to identify and eliminate barriers for people with disabilities, and to carry out its responsibilities under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.

One in seven people in Ontario has a disability and that number is anticipated to rise with the aging population across the province. Ontario is the first province in Canada to pass legislation to develop mandatory accessibility standards with the goal of identifying, removing, and preventing barriers for people with disabilities.

Whitby This Week
By Parvaneh Pessian

WHITBY — Nothing pleases Janet Hussey more than seeing the number of participants at her annual Chiari Awareness Walk along Whitby’s Waterfront Trail grow every year.

But in order to keep the crowds coming in support of an important cause, she says steps must be taken to improve access to the heavily used trail from Heydenshore Pavilion at 589 Water St., where the event is held in September.

“We actually rented the pavilion for the event but when you come out of the pavilion to get onto the trail, there’s no other way to get onto it except to walk out onto Water Street or you have to walk on the grass itself, which is very uneven,” said Ms. Hussey.

“For people coming to the walk that are using wheelchairs, canes, and walkers, it’s not safe. We need accessibility.”

Chiari malformation is a rare condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal, causing symptoms such as severe headaches and neck pain, as well as difficulty swallowing, dizziness and muscle weakness.

Ms. Hussey, a Whitby resident who suffered from symptoms of chiari for 20 years before she was finally diagnosed in 2011, has been working to help others by spreading awareness about the condition. She runs a Facebook page called “Chiari Without Borders” with more than 1,200 members, and launched the first non-profit organization in Ontario for chiari, which acquired charitable status in 2014.

The Chiari Awareness Walk started with just a few walkers its first year, growing to more than 100 participants at the third annual event last fall.

“A lot of my walkers have had decompression surgery (to relieve symptoms) and they have mobility issues where they have to use devices,” explained Ms. Hussey, who recently approached the Town of Whitby with her concerns.

“We need some sort of path as you exit Heydenshore to connect onto the trail … it’s a beautiful venue down by the lake, that’s why I like to have my walks down there, but there’s a lot of traffic down there all the time so when you have 100 people that are going on an awareness walk and have to walk out onto the road, it is a safety issue.”

The Town of Whitby has an accessibility advisory committee with about a dozen members who work with council to develop strategies to identify and eliminate barriers for people with disabilities.

Peter LeBel, Whitby’s commissioner of community and marketing services, said the committee is aware of the need for improved access from Heydenshore Pavilion to the Waterfront Trail but has deferred action until higher priorities are dealt with.

“We have an accessibility mandate that we’ve instituted and accessibility strategy that we’ve put in place for the municipality and each and every year, we have monies that have been put into the budget to deal with accessible matters — primarily related to facilities but anything that has to be addressed, whether it’s automatic door openers or trails, training we’ve done with our staff or dealing with accessible communications,” said Mr. LeBel.

“I think as a municipality we’ve made very significant strides and in fact, we’ve been even complimented by many people on what we’ve been doing. That said, we only have so much money that we have available each and every year in our capital budget to deal with accessibility issues.”

A list of projects has been identified by the advisory committee, as well as staff and an independent consultant, to ensure the Town is keeping up to date with requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Act was established in 2005 with a goal of making Ontario accessible by 2025. All levels of government, non-profits, and private sector businesses with one or more employees are required to comply with the Act and all of its applicable standards, including customer service, transportation, information and communications, the design of public spaces and employment.

Mr. LeBel said establishing a trail connection at that location would not be an “easy fix” as there are no sidewalks on Water Street and the process would have to be reviewed by staff.

“It would require some review as to the best way to deal with this matter, and of course also would require some fairly, I would think, robust capital dollars,” he said.

He added that the Town is willing to work with event organizers to find other means of accommodating them until the issue is addressed.

The fourth annual Chiari Awareness Walk is scheduled to take place on Sept. 12 this year.

Ms. Hussey said she hopes to work with staff to find a solution because holding the event is vital in her efforts to reach out to as many people affected by the condition as possible.

“Some of (the walk participants) have never met anybody before that has chiari so it’s a chance for them to connect with others and find people they can relate to and who know how they’re feeling.”

Reproduced from http://www.durhamregion.com/news-story/5333914-accessibility-issue-needs-urgent-attention-in-whitby-says-walk-organizer/