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Assessing new accessibility act

Lonnie Young outside of the Provincial Courthouse in Stephenville, which is not wheelchair accessible. – Courtesy of © Tracy Boland

By JAYMIE L. WHITE Special to The Appalachian

STEPHENVILLE — Lonnie Young knows firsthand how difficult it can be to get around when places aren’t accessible.

“I grew up in Stephenville, played a lot of sports, was fairly outgoing, and I moved to Nova Scotia in 1987. I had a diving/swimming accident in August of 1988 and, unfortunately, broke a couple of bones in my neck and suffered some spinal cord damage and the rest is history,” said Young. “I have been a quadriplegic 33 years this past August.”

Young said that being in a town with older buildings raises its own set of issues for people who need better access.

“Being in a wheelchair in a small town has its challenges for sure,” said Young. “I think it has definitely improved over the years from when I first moved home. There’s a lot more accessible buildings, and anything that’s newer, built in the last 30 years or so, was built under mandates where they have to be accessible, but when you’re in a small town and you have a lot of infrastructure that is 60-70 years old, that causes obviously problems when it comes to accessibility.”

Young said there are several areas in the town that are unacceptable and completely inaccessible to people with mobility issues.

“We have a provincial court building in Stephenville that is like, three stories up, that is one hundred percent inaccessible. It is hard for anybody with anyone who has an impairment just walking up the stairs of the courthouse,” said Young. “There’s a lot of buildings on Main Street in Stephenville that don’t look inaccessible to the naked eye, but when you have one step for someone in a wheelchair, that is just as big of a hurdle as ten steps. We have a lot of those type of issues around town.”

Young said some areas have made improvements and are accessible by definition, but may not be done to the level they should be.

“The entrance to the Stephenville Mall is one place I’ve complained about before. They will slap a bit of concrete coming off that curb that isn’t done to any code. It’s just angled a bit and routinely cracks and breaks over the years and then you have to navigate the holes or the cracks when you’re going up over it,” said Young. “The entrances at WalMart and Shoppers Drug Mart are perfect. The ramps going into those stores are done to code and the ramps are easy to go up and over, but the main entrances going into the mall, for some reason, are not up to standard in my opinion.”

Young believes it is important for the government and any organization to continue discussions and find solutions to improve upon accessibility.

“We have an aging population in Newfoundland,” said Young. “When you have an aging population, accessibility is something you should be thinking about all the time, regardless of who owns the property. I think it should be a focus for any place like our town when more people are going to need to avail of it as the years go by.”

On Monday, Oct. 25, the province unveilied a proposal for a new Accessibility Act. The proposed legislation has been called ‘An Act Respecting Accessibility in the Province’ and is designed to improve overall accessibility throughout the province by preventing, identifying, and removing barriers that hinder access for persons with disabilities.

Craig Reid, President of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities NL, reacted positively to the announcement.

“The Coalition of Persons with Disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador applauds the creation of accessibility legislation. The proposed Accessibility Act is the result of extensive consultation with persons with disabilities in this province. This legislation represents the beginning of a new era of accessibility and sets the framework for true equity in our society,” stated Reid.

Young believes the legislation is a positive move forward, but more can still be done.

“I’ve spoken to many people, and their idea of accessibility is different than somebody in a wheelchair. They don’t see the little things that somebody in a wheelchair will see because they are actually using that accessibility,” said Young. “If the committee is made up of at least one person in a wheelchair, then I think it is a step in the right direction.”

Young said that unfortunately, it seems that accessibility is only a second thought to many places and has even gotten removed.

“When I first used to go to the Stephenville Dome years ago, they had a section on the western corner of the building that had a platform they built over the top of the ice in once corner, and it was big enough for maybe 8-10 wheelchairs. You could go in there, and if you are in a wheelchair, you could still see the entire ice. You weren’t in the line of traffic for people walking down the sides. It was a very comfortable, very nice spot to watch a hockey game from if you were disabled.” said Young. “I don’t know who decided to do it, but at some point, over the last 10 or 12 years, they put a giant air conditioning unit right into that spot and now you can’t get there at all.”

Young believes that, with small changes to the way people think, true accessibility is something that can easily be achieved.

“It’s just as easy for an able-bodied person to walk up a ramp as a set of steps, so for me, if you’re putting on a set of steps and a ramp is just as easy to install, why not do that and open the access to everyone?”

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