Awareness day shows gaps accessibility for the disabled

By Mark Hoult

Community Press

Campbellford — Lucinda Humphries pumps her arms forward, propelling the wheelchair down the sidewalk to the Trent Hills municipal office, where she presses the button for the automatic door and manoeuvres herself inside.

The municipal office was relatively easy to enter in a wheelchair, but Humphries, an outcome support worker with Community Living Campbellford-Brighton, discovered last week that not all buildings in Campbellford, even when equipped with automatic doors, provide easy access for a disabled person.

Humphries was one of six people taking part in the June 8 More Abled than Disabled Community Access Awareness Day in Campbellford, an event that enables able-bodied people to experience the challenges faced by people using wheelchairs, scooters and walkers every day to move around the town’s streets, businesses and public buildings.

For Humphries, an able-bodied person unused to moving around in a wheelchair, getting into buildings was a unique and eye-opening challenge.

“It was a good experience to do, because I’m usually pushing a wheelchair rather than riding it, and I never really realized how unaccessible places are, even when they think they are.”

Humphries said she also discovered that sidewalks are not as friendly seen from the perspective of a wheelchair.

“I never realized how much they slant, and how the curbs, even with a ramp, are difficult to get up. There’s still a lip to get over when you are crossing the street.”

Krista Skutovich, a health worker with the local health unit, said moving a wheelchair around the streets and into buildings was “a great experience” because it revealed the challenges faced every day not only by the disabled but by an aging population. “For someone who has never been in a wheelchair before it was a big challenge,” she said, describing the difficulty she had getting over curbs and through doorways, with or without automatic opening buttons.

Skutovich acknowledged the work done in Campbellford to improve access for the disabled. “For a town this size they’ve done a lot of work and should be commended. But the take home message is, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

Physiotherapist and event organizer Doreen Sharpe said the first access awareness day in 1990 brought about an increase in awareness and eventual improvements in accessibility in Campbellford.

“And we’ll see changes from this,” she said, after gathering up the reports of participants.

The access awareness day ran each year from 1990 to 2005 and was revitalized this year to identify problems that still exist in the town.

“For example there are lot of cracks in the sidewalks,” said Sharpe, who will be sending letters to the businesses and government organizations visited by participants assessing their accessibility to the disabled.

In addition to identifying problems, the access awareness day “helps us to understand that we are all the same and that accessibility is important too,” said Sharpe, who plans to expand the event next year by involving the local high school and bringing in guest speakers.