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Advocating for access and inclusion

Suzan Jennings, the in-coming chair of the Oceanside Accessibility Committee, looks forward to working with City of Parksville Councillor Marc Lefebvre to change attitudes in the community towards people with mobility issues.  - BRENDA GOUGH PHOTO
Suzan Jennings, the in-coming chair of the Oceanside Accessibility Committee, looks forward to working with City of Parksville Councillor Marc Lefebvre to change attitudes in the community towards people with mobility issues.
— image credit: BRENDA GOUGH PHOTO

BRENDA GOUGH

NEWS Contributor

The campaign to bring in motorized scooter regulations in the province came to a screeching halt last week removing one potential road block of the Oceanside Accessibility Committee (OAC).

There was plenty of debate at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver last week regarding scooter regulations.

The town of Sidney was hoping UBCM delegates would endorse a bid to lobby the provincial government for the regulation of motorized personal mobility scooters after a couple of roll-overs on the town's streets.

But many delegates were concerned the proposal would constitute discrimination against seniors who rely on the machines for mobility and it was voted down.

It's a big relief to the large senior population in Parksville and Qualicum Beach and City of Parksville councillor Marc Lefebvre who is city's liaison on the OAC.

He says with the area's growing senior population, steps to promote the safe operation of scooters must be taken by the community as a whole.

"I believe the responsibility has to be the municipalities.  We have to take charge."

Lefebvre who attended Walk and Roll, an RCMP scooter/wheelchair rodeo September 23 at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre said there needs to be more scooter rodeos that promote safety.

"We should do it on a continuous basis because people get into scooters on an ongoing basis," he said.

Another way to improve scooter safety, he said, is to get business sandwich board signs off of sidewalks.

"Sandwich boards are a constant complaint we receive from people in automated wheel chairs or scooters.  Even for people with eyesight problems, sandwich boards in the middle of a sidewalk are deadly.  We are going to be working on this."

He added they also need to look into curb cuts because they play an important safety role.

Curb cuts are ramps cut into sidewalks that allow wheeled vehicles to pass smoothly from the curb to the street.

When installed at intersection corners, curb cuts are helpful for those in wheelchairs and pedestrians with strollers. However curb cuts built for off-street parking entrances disrupt the sidewalk and can be a hazard.

"Curb cuts can't go out into the middle of the street.  They have to be at the corner or where the cross walks are and I think as a municipality that we have a responsibility in terms of curb cuts and in terms of our signage by-laws," Lefebvre said.

He said they are going to need new kinds of signage and people need to respect the fact that sandwich boards can't be put on the sidewalk.

The objective of the OAC is to educate, sensitize and inform the community about accessibility. The OAC strives to foster a sense of inclusion that enables people of all ages and abilities to enjoy local amenities, participate in local employment and live a productive lifestyle.

The group has a big wish list and for the incoming chair of the OAC Suzan Jennings it is personal.

The wellness ambassador and accessibility advocate is the Author of "Paralyzed Without Warning."

After a neuromuscular disease she acquired five years ago she went from what she calls fine, fabulous and 40-ish to completely paralyzed from the neck down within days.

She spent six months in the hospital and was told she would never walk again.

"Now I walk with the aid of a cane and I use my power chair if I am going to be up and about for a length of time."

Jennings said they need to change attitudes towards mobility issues and sensitivity training is at the top of her list.

"Our goal is to keep pressing for accessibility and inclusion for all."

Jennings said she and others in her situation have been discriminated against and even banned from entering certain businesses in the community.

"I have been discriminated against in a store because they said there is no room for your chair in here and you will knock things off the isles if you come in here in your chair."

She said everyone should be allowed everywhere.

"We should be able to enter all stores ... whether you are in a power chair, whether you are visually impaired or whatever your infringement is."

Jennings said she constantly dislocates her shoulder trying to get doors open while she is in her chair and many doorways are not wide enough to enter in a chair.

She admitted it is a costly proposition for merchants to take on accessibility upgrades but the OAC will be working with SPARC BC to do accessibility audits in the community and perhaps tap into some potential grant funding.

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