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Athlete Fights For Disabled Rights
Hotel had only one accessible suite
By: Carol Sanders, 6/05/2009 1:00 AM
WINNIPEG — She spent nine months in hospital fighting for her life after her vehicle was rammed from behind on the highway.
Now, Arlene Ursel is fighting for her rights.
On Thursday, the Manitoba wheelchair curling champion has a human rights hearing in Winnipeg she hopes will draw attention to the need for accessibility legislation.
Her complaint is against the only Neepawa hotel that offered a wheelchair-accessible room, after she was told it was no longer available.
“It was my only option to see my parents,” said Ursel. Her elderly mom and dad lived in a walk-up apartment in Neepawa.
Six years ago, Ursel’s car was among seven stopped on the highway for construction and was rammed by a milk tanker near Neepawa. A boy in the car behind her died and she was made a paraplegic and spent close to a year in hospital.
After the 2003 collision, she was able to drive again, and would make the trip from Winnipeg to Neepawa to visit her elderly mom and dad. She would stay for a few days at the Bay Hill Inn & Suites — the only Neepawa hotel with a wheelchair-accessible room.
When she tried to book the hotel room in 2007 several times, she was told it was no longer available but given no explanation.
“There was no good answer,” she said.
That meant being forced to make day trips to see her parents. The two-and-a-half hour drive each way from her home in Winnipeg was difficult, said Ursel, who lives independently.
“It’s really hard,” she said. “I’m stiff and sore after something like that, and it’s dangerous for other medical reasons.” She had to make the drive anyway, she said.
“What made it so important was my dad was ill that year… My time was limited to see him.” Her father passed away in January 2008. She could have spent more time with him before he died if she had a place in Neepawa to stay, she said.
Ursel decided to file a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
Bay Hill Inns & Suites owner Tom Sung said they have a “handicapped room” but it was occupied every time Ursel tried to book it. He said there may have been some miscommunication from a front desk employee who no longer works there.
“I hope that they will get this room open again and monitor it so it will never be closed again,” said Ursel, “not just for me but for a lot of disabled people.”
Outside of cities, finding accessible hotel rooms in Manitoba is difficult, said Ursel, whose team won bronze at the Canadian wheelchair curling championships in March.
With an aging population, Manitoba is going to need more wheelchair- and walker-friendly rooms, she said.
More than 170,000 Manitobans — close to one in six — have a disability. That’s expected to rise to one in five over the next 20 years because of our aging demographic, says Barrier-Free Manitoba, a coalition lobbying for accessibility legislation. The Manitoba Human Rights Code says people with disabilities have the right to equal treatment and equal access to facilities and services which include restaurants, shops, hotels, movie theatres and other public places.
Accessibility is still a big problem in Manitoba because the onus is on the individual to fight each barrier, not on hotels and facilities to follow the code, says a Barrier-Free spokesman.
“It should not be the victim who has a burden to make the complaint,” said Patrick Falconer.
Ontario will be barrier-free by 2025, and Manitoba should make a similar commitment, said Falconer. The majority of Manitoba human rights complaints concern disability issues, he said.
“I would think the province that’s building the Canadian Museum for Human Rights would want to be actively addressing the number-one human rights issue in its jurisdiction.”