A New Year’s goal: accessible city for all

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So think for a minute about how you dealt with last weekend’s heavy snowfall.

Perhaps you had to brush your car off before heading off to the grocery store, or to the rink with your kids.

Maybe you had to shovel off your driveway and sidewalk – hopefully including in front of your property, just to show some kindness to your neighbours and to be a good citizen.

By the way, if you occupy a residence or business next to a sidewalk in the central business district and on Franklin Avenue from Matonabee Street to 57 Street, the city states “you must take all reasonable measures to clear away all snow and ice from the sidewalk, within 24 hours of the time that the snow or ice accumulated.”

But all that shovelling and scraping aside, put yourself in the position of someone with mobility issues, perhaps even in a wheelchair.

Think about how even the smallest pile of ice can prevent your from leaving your home. How moving through deep snow using mobility aids of any kind can be more than just an inconvenience.

Getting around in this physical world – especially in the North – is something many of us may take for granted. There is a community of people who find curbs, even a couple of stairs, narrow passages, real problems. If you have vision or hearing issues, street signs, traffic signals, airport loudspeaker announcements are often difficult to understand. An it’s not just people with disabilities that have a problem getting around but seniors and parents pushing strollers too.

For years, city council has promised to make it easier for people with mobility issues to get around. As has the territorial government and the feds.

In its most recent annual report, the NWT Human Rights Commission determined that 63 per cent of all complaints it received in 2016-17 included “an allegation of discrimination based on disability.”

In at least three cases of this nature that were adjudicated that year, either the city or the GNWT was ordered to pay damages up to $10,000.

Then there was the Centre Square Mall fiasco that took some time to settle.

With the mall being built in 1990, it pre-dated 1995 provisions under the Canadian Building Code. The two levels were separated by stairs – and different owners.

It was determined older buildings didn’t have to necessarily comply retroactively but when an owner undertook a major modification or alteration of the building or makes an alteration to an entranceway, then code compliance would come into play.

While that issue was eventually settled, the mall’s owners also took an extended amount of time to obey a fire marshal’s order to build a wheelchair-accessible ramp at its Franklin Avenue entrance.

Those are just some examples of struggles the disabled community has faced in the city.

But as reported in Yellowknifer, (“City and territory grapple with meaning of accessibility,” Jan. 5), there are still more. Including at city hall.

The building is technically accessible but a person in a wheelchair must enter through a side door, navigate their way through corridors to find the elevator, and then take the elevator upstairs to get to the service desk and council chambers.

Both the municipal and territorial governments are currently undertaking accessibility audits.

The city’s audit, which is set to be presented to council in early 2018, is focused on infrastructure: making buildings and the physical environment accessible to a broader range of Yellowknifers and visitors.

The city and GNWT have repeatedly been challenged to make life better for people with disabilities. And they have failed.

We should be making Yellowknife as welcoming a place for people with disabilities as possible. For our long-term residents who perhaps become disabled through sickness or accident, we owe them as comfortable a life as possible.

For anyone with a disability considering moving here, we need to be able to show we are a welcoming place.

Making the door moie difficult to open does not accomplish that goal.