Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario


Snowy Sidewalks A Sticking Point For Woman In Wheelchair

Posted By Fisher, Pete

A car dealership has acted, now it's time for the town to step up to the plate, says a Cobourg woman after a chilling ordeal.

Carol Cherry has been confined to a 280-pound motorized wheelchair since 1998.

She is also vice-chair of the Cobourg Accessibility Advisory Committee (CAAC).

She says the Town of Cobourg has not listened to the CAAC after an Ontario Human Rights Code decision to have a parallel bus service for the disabled.

On the morning of February 8, Ms. Cherry got rode the Wheels bus (for the disabled) from her William Street house to the VIA Rail station for a train trip.

When she returned to Cobourg at 6:30 p.m., she had to use her motorized chair to go home because the Wheels bus shuts down at 3 p.m.

As she headed down George Street, she travelled on the roadway, but because she was concerned about being struck by a car, she moved to the sidewalk.

"I didn't realize the first house wasn't plowed, and in a fluke situation my cellphone had been on the blink," Ms. Cherry said.

Within seconds her chair became stuck in the snow - on a dark street with little pedestrian traffic.

With no way of contacting anyone, Ms. Cherry spent over an hour mired in the snow, with cars travelling by her unaware of her situation.

"I tried to wave at the traffic, but nobody saw me because it was very dark," she said.

Ms. Cherry said she kept trying her cellphone, and by chance got through to her residence.

Although a staff member came to her rescue, she couldn't budge the wheelchair because of its weight.

A pedestrian came upon the scene and also tried to help.

"The two of them still couldn't get the wheelchair out, so I had to throw myself in a snowbank and they dragged the wheelchair about six or seven feet," Ms. Cherry said.

"I had to crawl on my belly to get to the chair. By that time I was soaking wet. And I still have to travel another 20 to 25 minutes to get to my house."

Ms. Cherry said her chair got stuck several more times on sidewalks that hadn't been cleared.

"I'm a registered nurse, and I've worked in the Intensive Care Unit, and I'm telling you it's a miracle I wasn't frozen," she said.

Ironically, Ms. Cherry was scheduled to meet with the Cobourg Daily Star at the VIA station on Friday, but her chair got stuck in front of Thomas Pontiac Buick on University Avenue, about four metres from the west property line of the dealership.

She phoned the dealership and two men came out help her.

Ms. Cherry and this reporter then went inside to talk with a representative from the dealership.

Controller Wayne Hamlyn was very understanding of Ms. Cherry's problems. He said he"d only been in the area, and at the dealership for a few months.

"Until five minutes ago, I didn't know it was our responsibility to clear it," he said.

Where he is from, Mr. Hamlyn said, the municipality takes care of clearing the sidewalks.

"I think whoever clears our snow for us has probably made attempts at it," he said. "Obviously not satisfactorily, or you wouldn't have got stuck."

As the meeting was taking place, staff at the dealership became aware of the problem, and were getting an ATV with a plow on it out of the showroom to clear the sidewalk.

Mr. Hamlyn said the dealership would be working to correct the problem immediately and told Ms. Cherry if she ever has concerns to bring them to the dealership immediately.

As Ms. Cherry exited the dealership, she could see staff at the dealership getting ready to clear the sidewalk.

"I'm really, really happy to see that," she said. "It's wonderful when people take it that seriously."

"Very, very positive," she said of her encounter with Mr. Hamlyn. "He seemed like a very nice gentleman, seemed very interested and honestly did not realize that it was the dealership's responsibility to clear the snow."

The only problem Ms. Cherry has now, she says, is convincing the Town of Cobourg to act.

"The larger issue for people with disabilities is the Wheels bus," she said.

Although the town buses run regularly until after 9 p.m., the Wheels bus for people with disabilities shuts down at 3 p.m., she said.

Ms. Cherry said access to a bus stop this winter can be impossible because of the snow, and if a person did get to the stop, there is no way for the bus to lower the ramp because of the snow piled along the curb.

There is also the concern that people confined to wheelchairs don't have the mobility to move around to keep warm while waiting for a bus.

The Wheels bus goes directly door to door.

Ms. Cherry has presented a Ontario Human Rights Commission decision to town council twice, most recently approximately six months ago, notifying the town of Cobourg it is in violation of the Human Rights Code.

"They must provide parallel service between the regular bus and the Wheels bus," she said.

But as yet, she hasn't scene anything positive come from the presentations.

"It's come to the end of my ability to be patient. Somebody is going to get killed."

Cobourg public works director Stephen Peacock says a lot of work is being done regarding the Wheels bus issue.

Town staff have met with the Accessibility Advisory Committee as well as representatives from local cab companies, he said.

A plan is being considered where a cab company would serve pre-registered disabled users during the hours in which the Wheels bus is not in operation but the regular buses are, Mr. Peacock said. The user would pay the regular transit fair during those hours, and the town would subsidize the rest.

When Cobourg council meets today for the budget review, tendering out this service will be part of the considerations. It is estimated the service would cost about $20,000 for six months.

Although no cab companies are equipped to handle the job at this time, Mr. Peacock said, there was interest in providing the service. He said it is hoped the service will be in place by mid-2008. Article ID# 909763

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