YARMOUTH, NS - Two councillors from the Town of Yarmouth experienced accessibility barriers first-hand for a few hours on July 18 from the seat of a wheelchair.
Podiatrist Michael Innis, owner of Happy Feet Orthotics on Main Street, issued the wheelchair challenge to the mayor, the council and the town planner after his request to Yarmouth town council for a handicapped parking spot in front of his business was denied. A good portion of Innis’s patients are mobility challenged, he says.
Councillors Wade Cleveland and Sandy Dennis, who is battling stage 4 cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, accepted the Innis’s challenge.
They used wheelchairs borrowed from the Yarmouth Lions Club and $50 each was donated to the organization in their name.
Cleveland required a little help from Innis at times to make progress up steep hills, over a bump at the entry to Frost Parka and through doors.
Dennis, who received assistance from her daughter, says she took the challenge because “it’s important for citizens to be heard and being on council gives us a voice to do that.”
“I think that council needs to have more voices in things,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s not just about policies and rules and regulations, it’s about doing what we can for our citizens.”
Dennis is having difficulty walking because of the drug she is on right now and says she didn’t realize what people went through in terms of accessibility.
“I didn’t know what cancer was like until I actually had it. It’s the same for being in a wheelchair. You don’t know what it’s like until you actually sit in a wheelchair – all the inconveniences there are.”
She adds that the necessary trips to Halifax for treatment are especially hard, as her husband Ken has to find a parking spot and help her get out of the car and into the hospital. “It’s harder on your caregiver,” she said.
Cleveland says the thing he noticed the most about manoeuvring the wheelchair was the difficulty in getting around.
“The tiniest things that when you’re walking you don’t consider – like bumps or slants in the road,” he said.
A visit to Frost Park was a case in point. Cleveland ran into a large bump where the sidewalk ends and the curb begins that was “extremely difficult” to get over.
“I nearly went flying on it. The wheelchair is very tippy. Just going up a hill I almost did a wheelie and went flying. Moving forward isn’t too bad, though it takes a lot of physical effort. I’m exhausted and I’ve only been in it an hour,” he said.
“When I start flying, my foot goes down but if I were a paraplegic or quadriplegic my foot wouldn’t go down. I would have ended on my side, or on my head or upside-down.”
The Town of Yarmouth is developing a terms-of-reference for an accessibility committee and there have been discussions about identifying where handicapped parking spaces exist now to determine if they are in the most optimal locations.
Accessibility funding available
Funding is available through the Communities, Culture and Heritage department for a cost-shared grant to make accessibility-related improvements for clients, customers, for employees or all. Amount covered is up to 66 per cent of eligible expenses to a maximum of $25,000.