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Accessibility Remains An Issue

By Michael Lea, Kingston Whig-Standard
Monday, October 8, 2012 11:21:27 EDT PM

Lisa Hewitt of Community Living Kingston, with Adrienne Kurji, for whom she provides support, says communities must do more to make their businesses accessible.

Lisa Hewitt took a walk down Princess Street the other day.

The support worker for Community Living Kingston, who helps people with developmental and physical disabilities get out and get more involved in their communities, wanted to find out just how many of Kingston’s businesses were truly accessible to someone with mobility issues.

So she walked down Princess Street from Division Street to Ontario Street and looked at the front doors of all the business establishments along the way.

“I found 85 businesses, stores and restaurants that were not accessible,” she said.

In most cases, it was the steps going in that proved to be a formidable barrier.

At some stores, a manual wheelchair may be able to be tipped back and make it over a small lip at the entranceway, but that lip would stop an electric wheelchair dead in its tracks, she said.

“For somebody who has an electric wheelchair, you can’t get over that.”

She held her fingers a couple of inches apart. “Even something this high they can’t get over.”

Hewitt is also a member of People First of Kingston, a private, self-advocacy group for individuals with physical or development disabilities that lobbies for better accessibility.

It’s not just some Kingston businesses that make it difficult, if not impossible, for people in wheelchairs to get in, she stressed.

“It’s everywhere.”

She recounted a trip to Bowmanville with a man for whom she provides support. She had been guaranteed his hotel room was fully accessible for someone in a wheelchair.

The hotel uses an electric lift to move people from the wheelchair into a bed in a sling but she found the legs of the lift could not fit under the bed.

“So I was stuck for three nights in Bowmanville and I couldn’t get him into the bed,” she said. “So I had to move furniture around and get a cot so I could put the legs under the cot to get him into bed.”

The hotel said the shower was accessible, but a small lip surrounding it made it impossible for Hewitt to get the man into the shower.

“The guy wasn’t able to have a shower for three days.”

Another trip was just as frustrating.

“I took a girl I support to Westport. There were three stores she could get into.”

Hewitt said people just don’t think about accessibility issues.

“They don’t think and that’s the problem,” she said. “Able-bodied people’s idea of accessibility is a lot different than somebody who’s in a wheelchair. You have no idea of the barriers that they face on a daily basis.”

She said the group supports one man who can’t use his left arm. Were he to be carrying something in his right arm, he wouldn’t be able to get into a store that didn’t have an electrically-opening door without somebody opening it for him.

“People are not being told what accessibility means,” she said. “The word has to get out there and people have to be taught in very simplistic terms that a lip of two inches is not accessible.”

Other conditions that may be a minor inconvenience to an able-bodied person may make the business inaccessible to someone with mobility problems, she said.

She recounted an effort to take a friend in an electric wheelchair on a boat tour. But the low water level meant the boarding ramp was at too-steep an angle for the chair to handle. So they had to miss the trip.

“It wasn’t safe,” she said. “Do something about that. Make sure that, no matter what, somebody with a disability can get on it.”

On another occasion, she wanted to take a woman in a wheelchair to see a musical this summer. But when she called to get tickets she was told there were no accessible seats left.

Out of 3,500 seats, only 15 accessible seats had been set aside and they had all sold out.

“So she couldn’t go. It’s not fair. Why can’t everybody have access to the very simple things and enjoyments that everybody else enjoys?” she asked.

Simply going out can be a major issue for someone in a wheelchair, Hewitt said.

“When you and I want to go out for dinner or want to plan a trip to go somewhere we just go. We find out where we have to go and how much it’s going to be. Somebody in a wheelchair has to make sure the room is accessible. They have to check. It’s not simple to plan a trip. It’s not simple to plan a night out for dinner.”

Often they want to go to a restaurant but “they get down there and find out they can’t get in.”

“It’s very disappointing.”

It can be so simple for a restaurant or business to cater to someone in a wheelchair, she said.

She spoke of a visit to the Kingston Brew Pub with a man in a wheelchair. Again there was a step to negotiate so Hewitt went inside to ask about accessibility.

“They said no problem. Two gentlemen came out with a portable ramp, put it on the front door and in he went. It’s easy for a restaurant to invest maybe $200 for a portable ramp or a couple of hundred dollars to put cement to make a (ramp).”

She told of a small plaza in the city where the experience is completely different.

“None of those stores or restaurants are accessible. There are vacuum cleaner places in there, there’s restaurants, there’s all kinds of things that people with disabilities would like to go into. But they can’t.”

Hewitt said people seem to think that putting an automatic door out front makes them completely accessible.

“They don’t know what accessibility means. They don’t understand the difficulty that people have.”

She knows laws call for businesses to be accessible.

“It’s just not happening. It’s not being enforced. People aren’t being forced to pay that extra money to make sure that people can get in.”

She said someone literally needs to go to every single business and show them how to make their establishment completely accessible.

“I’ve been to businesses where I’ve said I have a friend who is in a wheelchair and she can’t get in here.”

Often she is told by the businessman that they don’t own the building and so can’t make any changes, she said.

“It’s the law. I’ve gone to a couple of places a couple of times, repeatedly saying you need to be accessible. And nothing’s ever been done. Absolutely nothing.”

She said the next step should be a fine. “If they’re not accessible they would have to be fined.”

It is a frustrating situation for her but it is even more frustrating for people in wheelchairs, she said.

Ironically, the city is currently accepting nominations for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities Access Award, which goes to those who have made significant contributions above and beyond what is required by law to improve access for persons with disabilities.

One positive step has been the changes to make the city’s transit system more accessible, said Hewitt.

“The bus system has opened up doors for everybody. They can get on these buses. It’s wonderful. But you get off the bus and then you can’t go where you want to go.”

michael.lea@sunmedia.ca

Reproduced from http://www.thewhig.com/2012/10/08/accessibility-remains-an-issue

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