Making Vancouver accessible to all

By LORI KNOWLES, QMI Agency
Last Updated: March 1, 2010 9:35am

Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games is benefitting one very deserving group of travellers: Those with disabilities.

“The Games are a catalyst for change of the very best kind,” says Bruce Dewar, CEO of a Vancouver not-for-profit society called 2010 Legacies Now. “We are
using the Games as a driver to get people thinking about how to make (Vancouver) one of the most accessible places in the world.”

With an estimated one in eight people worldwide living with a disability, and $13 billion being spent annually in North America by travellers with disabilities, Vancouver has tagged the group as one of the fastest growing market opportunities in the world.

The city’s plan to make itself more accessible began as far back as 2006 when then Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan participated in the closing ceremonies of
Torino’s Olympic Winter Games. The image of Sullivan, a person with quadriplegia, spinning in his wheelchair with the Olympic flag fluttering overhead symbolized Vancouver’s commitment to adapting itself for disabled travellers.

Vancouver started by developing a city-wide program that helps businesses fulfill criteria in accessibility assessment. The goal of participating businesses (such as attractions and restaurants) is to earn the right to display icons that address their wheelchair accessibility, visual accessibility, and hearing
accessibility. The program also helps provide clear and consistent information to travellers with disabilities.

Tourism Vancouver got into the game next by adapting its website. Visitors searching for accommodation on TourismVancouver.com can now search specifically for accessible accommodation listings. And a number of attractions, such as Vancouver Aquarium and the Museum of Vancouver, feature their accessibility
icons and information on their Tourism Vancouver listing.

With the hosting of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games on the horizon, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) also threw its hat into the rings. YVR is claiming it now exceeds national standards for people with hearing, visual or mobility impairments. Features include ticket and service counters with amplified
handsets, low-mounted flight information monitors, visual paging monitors and public address systems displayed in written form, information kiosks with closed-captioned decoders, as well as accessible washrooms.

YVR’s airport vehicle rental agencies are now equipped to provide cars with hand-controls, while the YVR Airporter (yvrairporter.com) shuttle bus service
can arrange transportation to Vancouver’s major hotels. Accessible cabs are also available at the airport.

Vancouver’s swift new Canada Line — the train that transports travellers from the airport to various points throughout the city — has designed its stations to be wheelchair-accessible, and every Canada Line train can accommodate four wheelchairs.

Finally, one especially heart-warming aspect of this Olympic legacy is the building of three accessible playgrounds to enable all children, including children with disabilities, to play side-by-side. The 2010 Legacies Now group partnered with Shane’s Inspiration, a not-for-profit organization, to build accessible
playgrounds in Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler.

Vancouver’s playground will be located at Kitsilano Beach Park. Richmond’s along the Middle Arm Waterfront Greenway, close to the Olympic Oval. And the Whistler playground, already open, is next to Celebration Plaza, where the Whistler-won Olympic medals are being awarded.

“The part of this project that excites me the most is how tourism has embraced it,” says 2010 Legacies Now’s Dewar. “The Games are the tipping point and things will carry on from here.”

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Reproduced from http://www.torontosun.com/travel/canada/2010/03/01/13065926-qmi.html