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Talking Elevator Makes City Hall More Accessible

Posted February 17, 2010

St. Catharines city hall is becoming more accessible — with an elevator that now tells you which floor you’re on and listening devices that mean you won’t
miss a word your city councillor is saying.

The more than $290,000 worth of accessibility improvements were rolled out earlier this year, as the city tries to lead the way in meeting provisions of
the new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, said Diana Lecinski, the city’s accessibility co-ordinator. The first phase required public-sector
organizations to implement customer service standards by Jan. 1, and requires private companies and organizations to meet the standards by Jan. 1, 2012.

The city paid for some of the improvements with a $50,000 grant from the federal government’s Enabling Accessibility Fund, said Lecinski, and some through its regular capital budget. Doorways leading to public areas in city hall were made wider and the door openers were automated. The third floor and Market Square washrooms were made more spacious, and fully automatic. Lighting was improved in public areas and in the city council gallery. One of the elevators was equipped with an enunciator, and the council chambers were equipped with listening devices that allow spectators to use earpieces and walkman-style receivers to pick up and amplify every sound.

The changes are welcome, said Shelley Stewart, co-chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Accessibility.

Stewart, who lost her vision nearly 20 years ago from complications of diabetes, has been stuck on an elevator at city hall several times in the past.

It’s only three floors, she said, but if you press the wrong button or get out on the wrong floor, you have no way of knowing you’ve made a mistake or of
knowing how to correct it.

Her worst elevator experience occurred in a downtown office building after hours, she said, when she got off on the wrong floor and ended up being half
an hour late for an appointment.

“The enunciator is what I love the most because I am totally blind,” Stewart said. “There is nothing more frightening than being on an elevator that’s not
moving, and if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know which button to push.

“For me, it’s very comforting to know where you are and where you are going.”

Stewart said the improvements send a signal to all St. Catharines residents that they are welcome at city hall, and even able-bodied citizens should be
proud their city is trying hard to be inclusive.

“To me, this means we have a friendlier community,” she said. “Isn’t it great that we can tell everyone who needs them that they can use them, that everyone is welcome? To me that makes a good community.”

As citizens age, they should still be able to access city services, she said.

“We are an aging population and the natural progression of aging is things like hearing, vision and mobility will diminish,” Stewart said.

Last fall, all city hall staff, councillors and committee members received customer service training to meet the Jan. 1 customer service deadline, but Lecinski said the physical improvements at city hall mean the city has done more than what is currently required.

She said she hopes that private building owners will follow the city’s accessibility example.

“We are being proactive,” she said. “We fixed a lot of things before they are even required. We want to show how reasonable it is to become more accessible. We are trying to demonstrate it’s not just about mobility, it’s not just about stairs versus ramps.

“We want to be a flagship example that you can take a 1937 building and make it accessible. We are absolutely thrilled about this, that we’ve made some huge improvements.”

Article ID# 2453776

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