Access Remains Unequal: Disabled

Homes, stores, sidewalks difficult to get to for many
Brad Bird, Oceanside Star
Published: Thursday, January 28, 2010

Oceanside streets, stores, parking areas and houses are failing many with wheelchairs, scooters and walkers, say members of a group seeking to improve accessibility.

They say homes of friends and family are often off-limits for lack of level entrances or accessible washrooms; most disabled parking spaces are too narrow for chair lifts; few curbs are lowered to allow access; doors at some malls can be difficult or impossible to open; and more store merchandise should be
accessible to people in wheelchairs.

“We want to do the shopping ourselves,” rather than have a clerk select a chocolate bar, for example, said Regan Myers of Qualicum Beach, a paraplegic who
had polio as a child.

“There’s dignity in choice.”

But choice is often lacking in a variety of ways, they say.

Gerry Price of Parksville, who became a quadriplegic after a workplace spinal cord injury 15 years ago, said building codes aimed at the handicapped are not always followed or enforced.

The men support “visitable housing,” the designing and building of homes with a basic level of accessibility for all.

Myers and Price belong to Measuring Up Parksville, a two-year-old group that is trying to make all of Oceanside more accessible. Some 650,000 people in
B.C. are disabled, they said, adding sometimes they feel forgotten.

Karen Johnson feels frustrated. The wheelchair-bound woman said it’s not right that she has to stop people and ask them to open a door to the Park Plaza, for example, when an automatic door could be installed.

“It’s hard to get into places,” she said. “Like Fields. I can’t open the mall door; it’s too heavy….Put a button in so I feel a little more adequate.”

An automatic door would cost about $1,000, said builder Egon Kuhn, who said he constructs accessible housing.

“My daughter’s house, I can’t get anywhere past the family room,” Johnson said.

They have a point, agreed Duane Round, owner of Parkwest Construction and a director with the Oceanside Development & Construction Association. Homeowners doing renovations and builders putting in new homes can provide wider, three-foot interior doors for only a few dollars more, he said.

Round said ramps to front doors are also reasonably priced and make it easier for everyone.

“We’re not talking about spending zillions of dollars,” he said. “These things can be done for a small amount of money.”

Round said local builders “are paying attention to what they are saying,” noting that the Measuring Up group has addressed the ODCA. “There needs to be a lot more education.”

Some curbside areas are dangerous, Myers and Price said, noting Craig Street at Highway 19A. The handicapped parking space there appears fine, with space for a wheelchair ramp on the vehicle’s right.

But there’s no immediate access to the sidewalk. Wheelchair users must go for about 10 metres on the street, into traffic coming off 19A, to access the lowered curb and sidewalk at the corner.

This puts fear into Myers. “If I got a job here, I would have to put myself at risk every time I got in or out to go to work.”

In the time he traveled to the corner, two vehicles turned onto Craig and avoided hitting him.

A passing pedestrian agreed there is a problem. “They don’t even have to be whipping by,” said the man. “They just don’t have to be paying attention (to put wheelchair users at risk).”

Myers said it wouldn’t take much to knock down the curb at the parking spot to solve the problem.

An area with one of the most elderly demographics in Canada, Oceanside has many residents in scooters, too, Myers said. They face similar challenges, as do people with walkers.

“I would say 20% of seniors need a mobility aid of some sort,” he said.

Even some government liquor stores are off limits to him, he said, because of parking and access issues.

The handicapped parking space at the Parksville Post Office doesn’t work for vans with wheelchair lifts because the extra space needs to be on the other side.

Of the 160 or so handicapped parking spaces in Oceanside only a minority are fully accessible to them because of design issues, they said. Many are too narrow, rather than the required three metres. Sometimes ornamental trees on sidewalks interfere with their automatic ramps, rendering the handicapped
space useless for them.

Even the beach is an issue. The new walkway is fine, they said, but like everybody else they want access to the sand. For this they need a hard-packed surface, or mats of some kind, and that means maintenance.

“We are taxpayers too,” said Myers. Anyone interested in joining the group may call 951-9887.

© Oceanside Star 2010  

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