LETHBRIDGE – What more can the city do to make its facilities and infrastructure more accessible, especially to people with mobility issues?
That’s the purpose behind the development of a Mobility/Accessibility Master Plan. Work has been underway internally for a few months, and a public forum is being held at City Hall Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 4-7 p.m.
The project lead, parks development manager Chris Witkowski, explained a committee was first formed in 2013.
“It was just about eight different departments that got together to start looking at some of the deficiencies we have in serving some of our residents who have mobility issues,” he said. “We took care of some of the more obvious problems, but realized we really needed more of a strategic direction as we move forward in trying to serve all of our residents.”
The first steps involved internal assessments, in partnership with Urban Matters, a Calgary consultant. The city is now engaging the public through events like Tuesday’s, as well as a website and online forum. Witkowski said they’re open to all discussion, with some of the subjects brought forward so far including transit and transportation as well as snow clearing.
Mark Davids, executive director of the Southern Alberta Individualized Planning Association (SAIPA), said public transportation is one of the biggest issues that gets brought forward. He cites an example of a woman who had to use her walker as a seat on the bus when no one would offer her their seat. He thinks there could be a clearer policy so that people with mobility issues are given priority for seats.
“I know that the city in the past has tried to make improvements and there’s definitely been some seen out in the community,” he said. “I know that it’s gotten better in some ways. But the main one is accessibility of getting onto the bus.”
Davids also cites more bus benches and grab bars in washroom stalls as needs that are raised. He hopes Bill C-81, currently before Parliament, will address some of the concerns since there is no federal legislation akin to what the United States has.
Witkowski said the scope of the master plan will cover municipal buildings and infrastructure.
“We have made some changes to our development bylaw, so new developments that come through will have to follow some of these mobility/accessibility changes,” he explained. “Existing private businesses – they’re kind of grandfathered in. We don’t have the authority to just go in and demand that they make upgrades. So, some of those changes will come in time.
“Right now, we’re just looking at what do we own and maintain, what can we control and what can we fix?”
He said the presentations will be interactive, simulating impaired vision, hearing, and mobility so people can better understand the obstacles many members of the public face.
“We’re using a term called ‘temporarily able-bodied.’ At some point, everybody is going to have some kind of mobility impairment. It could be a long-term permanent, it could be short-term sprained ankle – you could be on crutches for a week. But at some point, everybody is going to experience some sort of mobility challenge. So, we’re just trying to get that awareness out there, and get some feedback and help us improve our city.”
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