If you ask Labrador City resident Craig Foley how accessible the area is to people with disabilities, the number is disappointing.
"On a scale of 10? I'd give it a three," says Foley, who has been using a wheelchair for the past 20 years after being injured in a workplace accident.
"Some of the biggest issues I have surround parking. Not a lot of places have adequate parking, and sometimes getting from the parking space to a building can be difficult," he says.
Snow often isn’t cleared well, making it difficult to get wheelchairs to entrances, he says. Sometimes, ramps aren’t cleared of snow, either.
Then there are people who park in spaces designated for persons with disabilities or people park their vehicles in front of the entranceways designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
Some of the entrances are also problematic - some have accessible doors on the outside, but inner doors aren't automatic, which can cause problems. Other places don’t have accessible washrooms or may have a small step that someone in a wheelchair can’t get over.
There are times, he says, when he turns around and goes home when he sees the condition of some of the buildings that would make it difficult to navigate in a wheelchair. There are some places that he would like to go to, but says it’s just too much trouble.
He's hoping recommendations are coming in a report recently completed by an ad hoc committee - made up of a wide group of community groups, businesses and organizations looking at the need to improve accessibility to include all members of the communities - will be implemented to make life easier for people with all sorts of abilities.
Mobility issues, hearing, sensory and visual impairments are just some of the issues that were examined as part of an audit, which saw the Association for Community Living bring the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities (CODNL) to the area for 10 days.
The audit was made possible through donations by The Iron Ore Company of Canada, Provincial Airlines and the local business community.
“This is a big step for the communities, and for CODNL, as we have audited individual buildings before but this is the first community-wide audit we have done," said Nancy Reid, the acting director of CODNL. "While here, we met with local town councils, the Special Olympics group, addressed the chamber of commerce, to name just a few.”
During the visit, the group visited as many public spaces as possible.
"We visited places like government offices, libraries, the arts centre, schools, the college, recreation facilities, churches, the Mall and some other private businesses," added Trevor Freeborn, training and engagement co-ordinator for CODNL.
During the visits, there were a lot of photos taken, and in several months, a report will be made to the ad hoc committee. The report will help groups know what changes are needed.
“There was a lot of cooperation from the people we contacted, which is a positive thing for this assessment," said Theresa Oliver of the Association for Community Living.
Desire for change
Reid says the area has one really positive thing going for it: “We sense a real desire from people in the community to improve accessibility in the area for all persons,” she said.
And that's important when changes have to be made, she adds.
According to the visiting CODNL members, some changes can be made easily and are quick fixes.
“In some locations, it's a matter of placing special mats so people who walk with canes can avoid slippery floors," Reid said.
The group also has a web site - universaldesignnl.ca - that can point out how to make accessibility possible.
Having the audit is a big step for the Labrador West area, adds Oliver, and the group looks forward to sharing the report and then encouraging implementation of the recommendations.
For area residents like Foley, it's great news as well. He points out that more and more people are using wheelchairs, partly due to the aging population in the region.
But, he adds, there's also a huge need to make sure regulations are enforced.
“That means everything to make sure buildings are up to code with doors, ramps and other devices - they make for easy accessibility," Foley said.
"Some ramps, for example, I can’t navigate as they are not up to code."
More enforcement of people parking in areas for persons with disabilities needs to be looked at as well, he adds.
Foley adds that he hopes the community does what it takes to make persons with disabilities comfortable in the community.
Go online: Find out more about accessibility at www.universaldesignnl.ca