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Accessibility Barriers Result In Feeling of Isolation

City Scope
By IAN MCCALLUM
November 27, 2010

Prior to the Oct. 25 municipal vote, City Scope teamed up with accessibility advocate Ed McLachlan to expose members of council and aldermanic candidates to the frustrations encountered by city residents dealing with accessibility issues in their daily routine.

Bill Sandison, Wayne Northcott, Linda Stevenson, Rose Gibson, Joan Rymal, Ald. Dave Warden and Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands accepted our invitation to visit municipal facilities, including city hall, the police station, Emslie Field, Pinafore Park, the Timken Centre and St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works to discover firsthand the obstacles faced by residents wishing to enjoy events at those venues or undertake business with staff.

Whether seated in a wheelchair or peering through vision-impairing glasses, the participants were profoundly impacted.

As was the case four years ago with our first challenge, city hall remains a virtual minefield of obstacles on many fronts.

One of the most frustrating obstructions was the second-floor women’s washroom, adjacent to the mayor’s office. As Stevenson discovered, it was virtually impossible to undertake a 90-degree turn into the clearly marked accessible facility.

See photo at link below.

A new stop this time around was the wonderfully quaint confines of Emslie Field at Pinafore Park. Trouble is, if you have any mobility issues whatsoever,
the grandstand is off limits and a trip to the cramped washroom requires plenty of advance planning as Sandison discovered.

“We issue a municipal accessibility plan every year,” he noted. “I looked at it and it looks so much like the one from last year. I didn’t find Emslie Field
on there and it’s been an issue for 10 years, why isn’t it on there?”

As for the washrooms near the main pavilion in Pinafore Park, Rymal found out when nature calls, leave plenty of time.

“You’d have to plan a washroom break 20 minutes in advance to get up that incline, get in the door and take the side of your wheelchair off.

“It’s an ordeal. Personally I think accessibility goes as to how you’re valued as a citizen. How does the city value my input or getting to services? All
you want is control over your environment.”

Observed Sandison: “We’re very good with words, but we’re very poor translating those words into actions that generate results.”

Although touted as being highly accessible, the Ontario Works office on Talbot Street proved a challenge for Stevenson and Baldwin-Sands.

Trying to deal with staff at the front counter while seated in a wheelchair was an exercise in futility for Stevenson.

Meantime, Baldwin-Sands might as well have been in a bumper car when attempting to meet with a staffer in their cubicle. See photo at right.

On a positive note, St. Thomas Public Library has come a long way in the four years since Warden struggled up the ramp and into the facility on our first
challenge.

“They’ve made significant improvements,” he stressed. “The washrooms downstairs are still tough to get in and out of, but with the new washrooms being built on the main floor, that will be dealt with.

“The library has made every effort at the board level to make sure the building is more user-friendly.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“The physical challenges are probably minor compared to the social challenges they have to face on a day-to-day basis. When you have barriers getting out into the community, you become isolated.”

Wayne Northcott following his participation in the City Scope accessibility challenge.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to:
mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

Article ID# 2866114

Reproduced from http://www.stthomastimesjournal.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2866114