Improvements to accessibility are in the works thanks to a new project here in Invermere.
Local accessibility group Access in the Community for Everybody (ACE) is running the summer-long Accessibility Ambassador program, which has three main objectives: increasing awareness about local accessibility issues here in Invermere; working with local business owners and public institutions to help improve accessibly to their establishments; and cataloguing the wide range of accessibility infrastructure already in the valley, said ACE accessibility ambassador Wendy Rockafellow.
Accessibility refers to making things easier not just for people with physical disabilities, but also for seniors, mothers with strollers, people with injuries and others, she added.
“Right now, one in seven people in Canada has some kind of need for accessibility, either from a disability or because of aging. That may rise to as much as 20 per cent of our total population in 20 years. Can businesses really afford not to be accessible?” Rockafellow asked. “We focus a lot on quick, cost-effective solutions.”
“Accessibility can be really daunting. A lot of businesses have good intentions, but don’t know where to start. That’s what we’re hoping to help with,” said past ACE president and Invermere councillor Spring Hawes. “Accessibility doesn’t have to mean building elevators and ramps, it can be as simple as installing a door bell, so people who can’t get into a store can let people know they need a bit of help getting in.”
ACE plans to demonstrate one of its quick and easy accessibility solution — the Roll-A-Ramp, a type of portable, roll-up yoga mat that goes over a small set of stairs and can support a wheelchair — at the Saturday, July 19th Invermere Farmer’s Market.
“Where modification isn’t feasible, this is an affordable, immediate solution,” said Rockafellow, adding Safta’s restaurant in Invermere already has one in use.
When it comes to cataloguing accessibility infrastructure and programs, there are plenty in the valley, said Rockafellow, such as the adaptive sports programs and paved hiking paths at Panorama Mountain Village, and the Lake Windermere Rowing Club’s modified rowing sculls.
“So many of these things exist; what we want to do is compile them all into one resource, so a visitor with a disability for example, can quickly find out about everything in the region,” she said.
Rockafellow will be going door-to-door to businesses in town this summer to raise awareness about the ACE program.
Both Hawes and Rockafellow think the ten-year Accessibility 2024 plan released by the provincial government in June is a good step in the right direction.
The plan outlines policies such as potentially increasing the disability assistance rate, separating disability assistance from other income assistance, and looking into family maintenance payments for families getting both disability assistance and other income assistance.
“It’s definitely a program that’s long overdue. Canada is a world leader when it comes to Paralympic sports, for instance, but when it comes to accessibility on the ground, there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Rockafellow. “It’s an ambitious plan, but absolutely great.”
Hawes has some concern that, so far, no funding has been attached to the new plan. “That’s a bit of a challenge, so I don’t know how that’s going to work.”
“It’s not always easy to find the dollars to make the changes,” agreed Rockafellow.