Winter Accessibility in Whitehorse Should Be Higher Priority, Say Advocates

The city’s snow and ice control policy is up for review
George Maratos, CBC News
Posted: Nov 27, 2023

The tires of Finn Beaulieu’s motorized wheelchair spin out.

It’s a common occurrence for the 24-year-old. He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic condition that breaks down his muscles and gradually weakens his body.

His wheelchair is a means of freedom and independence, but every winter – both of those things are compromised. The chair is heavy, more than 300 pounds, and as he tries to navigate a parking lot deemed accessible by the City of Whitehorse, his tires gunk up with snow and ice.

“It’s hard for accessibility when there’s piles of snow in the parking lots,” said Beaulieu. “I think it needs to be clear for everybody.”

City staff confirmed to CBC News by email that Whitehorse doesn’t have a policy specifically dealing with the clearing requirements for on-road accessible parking stalls. But its snow and ice control policy is up for review – meaning city officials will look at the issue and how it’s prioritized.

Ross Beaulieu, Finn’s older brother, has the same genetic condition as his sibling. He knows first-hand the challenges of getting around Whitehorse in the winter.

“The city isn’t really on top of snow removal or clearing accessible spaces for anyone with mobility issues,” he said.

Both brothers were at city hall earlier this month, alongside several Yukoners with accessibility challenges, urging the Mayor and council to make accessibility a bigger priority.

Snow isn’t the only challenge they’re railing against. While at city hall on Nov. 14, Finn had to go to the bathroom – but he couldn’t. The washroom was deemed accessible, but it wasn’t.

“It was pretty small and I couldn’t fit my wheelchair in,” said Finn.

A long-fought battle

Ramesh Ferris, who has been fighting for better accessibility and inclusion in Whitehorse for decades, led a group of people in clearing sidewalks, alleys and accessibly parking spots in the city over the weekend.

“It’s painful to watch decision-makers say that they support accessible inclusion in Whitehorse, and then make decisions around having a city Bobcat at the airport recreational trail and then see us struggling downtown,” said Ferris, saying the situation couldn’t get any worse.

“Does every life have value in Whitehorse? That is the question here. And how are they demonstrating that? They’re not.”

Ferris is used to fighting. He was born in India and was diagnosed with polio when he was just six months old, which paralyzed his legs. He was adopted by a Yukon family and has called Whitehorse home since 1982.

Ferris traveled across Canada advocating for polio to be eradicated worldwide back in 2008.

“I hand-cycled across Canada but I can’t walk four blocks in downtown Whitehorse to work.”

A new normal

Sharon Shorty, a well-known comedian and storyteller who grew up in Whitehorse, is new to a life with compromised mobility.

Last summer her life took a drastic turn. While performing, she began to feel ill.

“I’ve always finished a gig no matter how sick I am,” said Shorty.

But this time, she couldn’t. Shorty went to the hospital, and while she was there, her health took a drastic turn. Her legs stopped working.

“I could not walk,” said Shorty. “Completely out of the blue.”

Shorty would spend the next four months in a hospital bed. When she was eventually released, she was forced to relearn how to navigate the city she grew up in.

“Trying to negotiate how to get to the doctors, to go to a restaurant or to go to a grocery store things I haven’t done for four months,” said Shorty. “I started noticing things are very hard when you don’t have that mobility that I took for granted all my life.”

Shorty said life for her has slowed down. She needs more time to get places and there are plenty of unknowns she faces every day.

“It’s a hard shift because I’m just so used to my freedom,” said Shorty. “The freedom of having all the privileges that able-bodied people have.”

These days, Shorty is using social media to raise awareness about the challenges those with compromised mobility face. She uses a humorous hashtag, #ihopeshortydontfall, when posting about the plight she and so many others face regularly.

“This is going to be the next phase of my life, you know, advocacy for disabilities,” said Shorty. “That’s what I’m going to be doing.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

George Maratos is an award winning current affairs reporter at CBC Yukon with more than a decade of experience covering the North.

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/winter-accessibility-whitehorse-1.7040941