Advocate pushes for accessibility for all
By ALISON LANGLEY , REVIEW STAFF WRITER
Updated February 3, 2011
Hearing the thundering water as the Maid of the Mist approaches the Horseshoe Falls is always a thrill for Linda Crabtree.
The St. Catharines resident has made it her mission to sample all Niagara has to offer in terms of attractions, hotels and restaurants.
And she does it all from an electric scooter.
Crabtree has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a progressively debilitating, neuromuscular disease.
She hasn’t walked in more than 20 years.
But that hasn’t stopped her from enjoying life, which includes day trips to various attractions, wineries and restaurants across the region.
“There’s a whole mess of good things to do in Niagara,” she said.
She became increasingly frustrated, however, when she found she was unable to attend a venue due to physical barriers such as entrance thresholds, narrow hallways or inaccessible washrooms.
She knew she wasn’t alone in her frustration and began researching the accessibility of Niagara’s attractions.
That lead to the creation of www.AccessibleNiagara.com,which has opened Niagara to people around the world with mobility impairment.
The site provides information on where to stay and what to do for travellers with disabilities and allows them to plan ahead for their trip.
“Visitors want seamless vacations,” Crabtree said, adding individuals with disabilities like to travel, and they don’t travel alone.
“Wherever a person in a wheelchair stays, everybody with else with them stays.”
There are more than four million people in Canada living with a disability — including 60,000 in Niagara — and nearly 50 million in the United States.
“A lot of people don’t come to Niagara because they think they won’t be able to get around and that’s a huge untapped niche market,” Crabtree said, adding people with disabilities have $200-billion in discretionary income to spend.
Her website receives between 1,500 and 2,200 hits a month from users around the world.
Crabtree has also created an eight-minute DVD that outlines how the industry can make venues more accessible and how to provide a seamless travel destination for people with disabilities.
“This is a win-win situation for everyone, both the public and the industry,” she said.
Venues that undergo an audit by Crabtree are featured on the website.
“You can show me a picture of an accessible bathroom, but I need to see it for myself,” she said.
With each detailed audit, Crabtree goes over a specific checklist.
Is there a single door entry way? Is there enough room for a wheelchair or scooter to turn around easily? Is there good lighting throughout?
There also auditing tools on the website so venues can perform a self-audit to see if they are meeting the needs of all visitors.
The site also has information on equipment rentals and repairs, emergency medical information such as the location of urgent care centres and local pharmacies, currency exchange, oxygen supplies and veterinary care for service animals.
There are currently 24 attractions listed on the site including the Niagara Skywheel, Maid of the Mist and the Niagara Parks Commission Butterfly Conservatory.
Tony Baldinelli, the NPC’s communications manager, said the agency is committed to meeting Ontario’s Accessibility Standards.
“As we update our facilities and continue to build new facilities, it’s always part of our thinking process,” he said.
Recently, Legends on Niagara became the first golf complex in Ontario to offer a SoloRider golf cart that allows mobility impaired individuals to play golf.
Baldinelli said Crabtree is an asset to the commission.
“Not only is she a great ambassador for the tourism sector, but she’s also a great advocate. We bring her in to our facilities as we’re making steps forward in order to get her input.”
Every year during National Access Awareness Week, the website, in partnership with the Ontario March of Dimes, presents an award to recognize those who go above and beyond to bring about accessible tourism.
Breaking the Barrier awards have been handed to Betty’s Restaurant, the Maid of the Mist, the Greg Frewin Theatre and the Niagara Parks for the Butterfly Conservatory and the Bridge of Flowers, the covered and accessible pedestrian overpass that takes people from the main parking lot to the Table Rock Welcome Centre.
While the tourism industry is starting to accommodate travellers with disabilities, Crabtree says more needs to be done.
“What I’d love to see is a hotel designed using the concept of universal design,” she said, adding fewer than 1% of hotel rooms in Niagara are universally accessible.
Universal design refers to broad-spectrum architectural planning ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are completely accessible to both the able-bodied and the physically disabled.
“The hotel could be beautiful, functional and accessible to everyone,” she said.
“That hotel would be booked all the time, all year round.”
She would also like to see an accessible incline railway to the falls and accessible buses around Niagara.
For more information on accessibility in Niagara, visit www.AccessibleNiagara.com or e-mail
Article ID# 2960279
Reproduced from http://www.niagarafallsreview.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2960279