Improving accessibility in the valley

A federal Enabling Accessibility Fund is seeking proposals to reduce barriers for people with physical disabilities.

An opportunity to improve accessibility in the Columbia Valley for people with disabilities is now available to local organizations.

Funding for small projects — including renovations, construction and retrofitting of buildings, modifications of vehicles for community use, or enhancements that will make information and communication technologies more accessible — can be applied for through the Government of Canada’s Enabling Accessibility Fund up until October 2, 2012.

Successful proposals stand to receive up to $50,000 per project and according to Kootenay Columbia MP David Wilks, the focus of the program is to remove barriers for people with disabilities.

“The Government of Canada recognizes the abilities of all Canadians,” said Wilks in a press release. “Through the Enabling Accessibility Fund, our Government is improving access to facilities, activities and services to enable all Canadians to participate more fully in society.”

There is always room for improvement, as far as accessibility goes, said District of Invermere councillor Spring Hawes, who uses a wheelchair after sustaining a serious spinal cord injury several years ago and has worked tirelessly to improve accessibility in the district as well as bring awareness to different social issues such as affordable housing.

“There have been many improvements in our area in the time I have lived here,” she told The Valley Echo in an email.

“Most of our public facilities are accessible, along with many of the larger businesses.”

Recently, when the Eddie Mountain arena was upgraded, an elevator to the mezzanine was installed so wheelchair users could attend meetings held in that space or watch hockey games in comfort. Five pieces of Sound Play musical instruments, the accessible musical playground equipment, were installed as part of the playground at Kinsmen Beach in 2010 by the A.C.E. Committee (Access in the Community for Equality), which works towards creating accessible communities within the Upper Columbia Valley. A.C.E. has also been spearheading the Columbia Valley Transit Committee to assist BC Transit in developing the valley’s para-transit system, and has also been working on developing a website promotion accessibility awareness and recreation in the valley, among other projects.

“The paved walking paths around Invermere are wonderful for wheelchairs, walkers and strollers to be able to get out and enjoy the community,” added Hawes, who is a past-president of A.C.E. “(And) new projects by the District of Invermere are also designed with accessibility in mind.”

But many of the small businesses in the valley are still not accessible at all, she said.

“While sometimes these renos can be substantial, other times a simple ramp, or a sign pointing to an accessible secondary entrance would be a big help,” said Hawes. “Remember that if a person is unable to enter a building to do business, that also means they couldn’t get a job there.”

In her estimation, accessible housing options are also limited, which makes it difficult for a person with a disability (and his/her family) to live in or relocate to the valley, and while the community bus is accessible, it still has limited hours and a wheelchair user could not depend on it to get to work on a regular basis.

The District of Invermere already has an accessibility incentive in place, and Hawes thinks the new funding opportunity presented by the Enabling Accessibility Fund could also potentially address many of the aforementioned accessibility issues. A.C.E. has begun to discuss initiatives that could fit the fund’s criteria of this funding opportunity and is hoping for a successful application, said Hawes.

For more information on the Enabling Accessibility Fund or to find out how to apply, visit

To learn more about ACE, go to, and for a searchable accessibility database where users can rate the accessibility of businesses or venues they use, visit Rick Hansen’s new global accessibility map at