By Sue Dickens

EMC Lifestyles – Campbellford – The ability of the physically disabled to get from their home to a grocery store, or to a bank to pay bills, to see their doctor or to just go to a movie or enjoy a nearby park without a struggle is among the priorities of the More Able Than Disabled Club.

To help with this goal the club’s facilitator, Doreen Sharpe, invited the Trent Hills Director of Public Works, Richard Bolduc, to attend their March meeting.

The topic for discussion was the condition of town sidewalks and more specifically in winter, the problems created by snow.

“When the snow gets piled up and you are getting out of your car, you have to go all the way down to the end of the street, to get onto the sidewalk, which is really difficult for people in a wheelchair to do,” said Sharpe.

Franklin Carwardine, who is physically disabled and uses a wheelchair, agreed.

A strong voice in the community as an advocate for the disabled, he said, “Trying to get onto and along the sidewalks with the snow is difficult.”

Responding to their concerns, Bolduc talked about the municipality’s role when it comes to snow removal and said, “We do the sidewalks so if there is an issue phone our office. We usually go out and follow up right away with clearing it.”

According to the bylaw, sidewalks maintained by the municipality that are located in the vicinity of schools, hospitals and high traffic generators are the first priority with sidewalks in other areas maintained afterwards.

The bylaw affecting snow removal also states in part that, “surfaces shall be maintained as bare as possible through the storm event … at the discretion of the supervisor or designate.”

Bolduc explained that clearing snow is done as soon as possible.

Gail Mann, a newcomer to the club, spoke about the condition of the sidewalks in her neighbourhood, on Country Road 30 at the west side of town.

She and her daughter (now deceased) who was physically disabled and in a wheelchair, would go to Tim Hortons on a regular basis.

Those same sidewalks have since been marked with yellow paint where there are big ruts and she questioned if the sidewalks would ever be repaired.

Bolduc explained that sidewalks are inspected annually and they were looked at last fall.

“The issues that are noted go on a list to be dealt with and there is money put into the budget to deal with as many as we can each year,” he said.

“There will be a list generated sometime in early spring and as many repairs as we can get done are done,” he added.

The repairs are prioritized.

“We hope the ones affecting wheelchairs can be fixed as a priority,” commented Sharpe.

Everyone agreed that the dialogue on the issue was important and Bolduc suggested the club also talk to the Trent Hills Accessibility Committee.

The new council is in the process of setting its committees.

Carwardine used to be a member of the committee and said he will be submitting a letter asking to join the committee again. He listed a number of places in Campbellford where sidewalks could be improved and where curbs need to be repaired.

The discussion at the meeting also dealt with the need for businesses to be more aware of accessibility issues the disabled face in town.

“Some accessible doors open up the wrong way or one opens one way the other the opposite way and that makes it very difficult to get into the business,” said Mann.

Those businesses that do not have automatic doors for the disabled should be approached, “in a nice way,” to see if they can find a solution, said Sharpe.

“Most of those businesses do say that if you knock on their door they will open it for you,” she added.

She suggested writing a letter to businesses about their concerns.

“I think just writing them a letter to begin with would be a really good start,” she commented.

Sharpe also suggested that the group investigate the availability of funding since accessibility is being mandated, to help businesses with the cost of improvements such as automatic doors.

“The only way to approach this is to be really positive,” she said.

Janice Coupland, outcome support facilitator with Community Living Campbellford/Brighton spoke of the need to educate and raise awareness.

The club plans to hold another Access Awareness Day in May in its ongoing efforts to improve accessibility and raise awareness through educational initiatives.