KITCHENER — Not every barrier to access is visible.
It’s easy to see the “one-step” into stores and restaurants that stop wheelchairs, walkers and strollers alike in their tracks.
But as Canada’s population ages and Ontario approaches the first significant deadline outlined by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, universal accessibility is becoming a standard of planning and design. Yet there’s still much work to be done.
Speakers at a forum Saturday in Kitchener to mark the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities said the biggest barriers are often the hardest to see.
“It’s (about) how simple improvements can make life better for everyone,” said Gavin Grimson, who has progressive multiple sclerosis but has also working community health planning for decades. He is the former executive director of the Waterloo Region District Health Council.
He spoke during the forum, titled “Aging with and into Disability: Leading the Way to Inclusive Community Planning and Development.” It highlighted that more accessible design helps everyone from the young mother pushing a stroller to the grandmother with a walker.
Grimson said the dropped curbs and ground-level doors in Belmont Village and Kitchener’s renovated King Street East are examples of how planning has turned into good practice.
“There’s progress everywhere you go,” he said. “But there’s still so much progress that needs to be made.”
“How can you be part of the community if the community doesn’t plan for you?”
And attitudinal barriers can be even harder to spot than a door frame that’s just too narrow for a bulky electric wheelchair.
“The biggest one (barrier) I think is attitude,” said Brad Ullner, a member of the Social Planning Council Kitchener-Waterloo that organized Saturday’s forum and luncheon.
He said legislation like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is helpful, but it doesn’t necessarily address attitudinal barriers.
Ullner has a master’s degree in political science, but he’s had difficulty finding a job that’s willing to accommodate his needs. He has lived experience with disability — an evolution of the terminology that seeks to identify the person’s connection to the community without labelling him based on his disability.
“It’s a universal design, but it’s not objects, it’s not systems or anything …. It’s about acknowledging that everybody, no matter their differences, is part of the community,” and should be enabled to contribute to it through gainful employment, Ullner said.
For Hazel Courtney, it took losing her sight to see how difficult finding a job can be for a person with disabilities. When Courtney became legally blind, even though she had a university degree in social services, she couldn’t find a job that didn’t require a driver’s license.
She eventually went back to school at 61 and, tens years later, now works as an employment counsellor. But she said the situation hasn’t changed. The employment rate for persons with disabilities in Ontario is over 50 per cent. And Courtney said only 15 per cent of that population has full-time jobs.
“They’re not given much chance to prove their ability,” said Courtney. “Employers and all levels of government need to step up to the plate and fix this abysmal situation.”
Reproduced from http://www.therecord.com/news/local/article/634406–breaking-down-barriers-with-the-right-attitude