Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario
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Removing Barriers; City Committee Touts Benefits Of Being Accessible

Posted By MARLENE BERGSMA

It may be expensive to make city buildings and services fully accessible, but it's worth it, say members of the city's accessibility committee.

With one in five Ontario residents expected to be disabled in some way by 2025, it makes sense to make sure they can participate in community life, says Elisabeth Walker-Young, spokeswoman for the St. Catharines Mayor's Advisory Committee on Accessibility.

People with disabilities are big spenders, currently controlling an estimated $21 billion in spending power in Canada each year, Walker-Young said. And St. Catharines' ability to meet their needs can affect their decisions about where they want to live or travel.

The city's economic development and tourism department is working on ways to promote St. Catharines as an accessible place to visit or do business, the city's accessibility co-ordinator, Diana Lecinski, said in her annual report to city council.

Efforts include educating business and tourism operators about the benefits of being accessible.

"It makes great business sense to be accessible," Walker-Young said. "A lot of people think of disabilities as people taking from society, in terms of care or resources, but there is $21 billion of spending power from the disabled community."

Walker-Young and accessibility committee co-chairs Shelley Stewart and Fred Stevens made a presentation to last week's city council meeting, updating councillors on their past accomplishments and plans for the future.

The city recently hired a consultant to conduct an audit of all city buildings and services to determine which are accessible and which are not, Lecinski said.

The list of barriers will be prioritized by the accessibility committee and various city departments will begin to include money in their annual budgets to remove barriers, Lecinski said.

But there won't be a separate budget item for accessibility, Lecinski said, because the changes that need to be made must be considered part of the normal activities of the city.

"This will be integrated into our regular way of doing things, into our normal everyday life."

Under the province's Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, all public and private-sector institutions and businesses must achieve certain accessibility standards by certain deadlines, with the goal of complete accessibility by 2025.

The next deadline is for customer service standards, which must be in place by 2010 for public-sector institutions and 2012 for private-sector businesses. Customer service includes making sure all people have equal access to goods and services, Walker-Young said. Failing to comply can earn a penalty of $100,000 a day.

Walker-Young - who was born with dysmelia, a condition characterized by missing or shortened limbs - works as a program manager for Paralympics Ontario, where she runs competitive sport programs for athletes with disabilities. She has lived in St. Catharines since coming to Brock University in 1996 where she competed on the Badgers' swim team and graduated with a physical education degree.

She is a record-setting Paralympian swimmer and has been on the St. Catharines accessibility committee for three years.

Some of the committee's accomplishments so far include adding six more accessible parking spots at the Seymour-Hannah Sports and Entertainment Centre, installing lowered customer service counters at city hall and installing evacuation chairs on the second and third floors at city hall so people who use wheelchairs or mobility devices can be evacuated if the elevators aren't working, Walker-Young said.

City hall staffers have also received customer service and accessibility training.

Walker-Young said the changes "will benefit everybody.

"Everybody is going to grow old and when bodies grow old, bodies degenerate. This is for grandparents, for people with kids in strollers. It will affect everybody in some way, shape or form."

On The Web

The city's annual accessibility plans and the Facility Accessibility Design Standards are available on the city's website at www.stcatharines.ca, by following the accessibility quick link.

Article ID# 974786

Reproduced from http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=974786

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