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Neighbourhood Accessibility

I’m often asked questions about accessibility in meetings. Sometimes I’m trying to get across a point about something to do with being in a wheelchair with a service dog. It can get pretty frustrating to try to explain things that able bodied people just have no experience of. So, I decided to record just one walk Leo and I went on recently. We go out at least twice a day. This was a pretty fair record of what happened, but I had to stop every time I wanted to take a photo – time to upgrade my equipment I think!

Close to home is this bizarre thing called by many names, not all polite, but it’s probably most known as a floating bus stop. It means that the City has put in bike lanes, and they can’t or won’t interrupt them for a bus stop. For this bus stop, there are bike lanes in both directions in between the bus shelter and where you get on the bus.

Two bike lanes in between the bus shelter and where you get on the bus.

It’s incredibly problematic, particularly to blind people. Bikes are changing, and e-bikes are fast and pretty much silent. On top of that, this City has a contract for rental e-bikes and scooters, increasing their availability. More on them later. However, there needs to be a consideration of priorities. What’s more important, trying to encourage people to use bikes or the safety of disabled people? I know which one I think it is, clearly. I fail to see why people who are using our public transit and therefore fulfilling the green mandate of transportation should be put at risk from the desire to have more bike lanes designed in such an awful manner. There has to be a way for the two to coexist.

After this we continued on our route. There was a cycle path that’s part of the sidewalk – I think it’s a called a multi-use path. They are always smoother than the regular sidewalk so we used that instead.

The smooth bike line that’s part of the sidewalk

Unfortunately, the end of the path basically turfed us onto the road – and the busiest one here. Not a good plan. As you can see, this isn’t a bike lane that’s part of the road, it’s part of the sidewalk, and should end in a safe fashion.

The bike line that’s part of the sidewalk ends in the highway.

After this, Leo had a poop! Luckily it was fairly close to a garbage can, but we had to cross grass to get there. I’ll get back to this too. Hot tip – if you’re in need of a garbage can, check a bus stop because there’s typically one there – just be careful if it’s a floating bus stop!

A garbage can surrounded by grass

We come across many hazards. The side walk being too narrow for Leo to walk at my side happens all the time. I have to keep him on a longer leash while we are out walking. I always try to keep him on the side away from traffic, but on this journey, in the middle of Kelowna, the sidewalk comes to an end, and I have no choice but to cross the road, with Leo in front of me, otherwise he would be walking in the road.

Lamp post in a narrow sidewalk

Uneven sidewalks are a menace. Hitting the bumps really hurts my body, and by the time we get home I feel I’ve been through the wringer. We have multiple materials used here, and they all react differently to the cold and to tree roots, which makes lots of bumps. Making things pretty, adding trees and so on is all well and good but shouldn’t be done to the detriment of making the community safe for disabled people.

A long stretch of very uneven sidewalk

A sidewalk full of trees and electrical boxes
As I mentioned, the City has a contract with Lime, a company that allows people to rent e-bikes and e-scooters through the use of an app. They can pick them up and drop them off anywhere. I see them on every walk we take, and 50% of the time they’re in my way. This one is sat in the middle of what would have been a lovely path to wheel through. Instead, it’s an obstacle.

An abandoned Lime scooter.

If we cannot pass along the sidewalk we can’t just cross the street, unless there is a curb cut. If the sidewalk is blocked we have to turn around and find another way. 

The purpose of our walk was to take Leo to an off leash dog park. I’ve had numerous emails with the City about places I can safely take a service dog for off leash time – it needs to be alone. I’ve offered to write and sign a contract for all kinds of places to no avail. In the end the City suggested this one, because it’s underused. We’ve been 3 times and only once was it unused, so the other times we turn away. Can you see the other issues? I have to drive across a grassy field to get to it, and it’s very uneven. After damp or wet weather, there’s issues with dirt/mud on my chair – and these wheels are my feet, not even my shoes. I can’t take them off when I come home – the dirt comes in with me. And, let me count the number of times I’ve got stuck trying to cross grass and dirt. None of the off leash dog parks in the City are wheelchair accessible, and there’s no plan anywhere that allows for people to exercise their service dogs off leash, which is so important for their mental health. Even though that my dog is working, his needs are a low priority in this City.

The field to cross to get to the dog park.

Dog park in the distance, with someone there.
After this, a car reversed into us. I don’t tell this story lightly because I know my mum will read it and worry. We came up to a drive of a house with a heavy hedge that I couldn’t see past. The car was electric so I couldn’t hear an engine, and the person just reversed right up their drive. I’m so glad I had Leo on the longer leash I had mentioned before rather than close to my side, as he jumped forward and I banged my hand on the back window of the hatchback to tell them to stop. I pulled forward, heart thumping, stroked Leo, and waited for the apology. Yeah, the car just drove off. Of course, I have no photos of it, so instead I give you this excellent video on why people in wheelchairs need the accessible spaces in parking lots.

This is just a small part of our trip out, which was probably 30 or 45 minutes. It happens every day. And, it’s only one type of accessibility issues – those for someone in a wheelchair with a service dog. Friends with other disabilities would have had other issues – and on a different day it may have been sensory issues or over-stimuli that affected me.

I don’t tell this to moan. I tell it to explain that accessing the environment that wasn’t built with us in mind is challenging, every single day. Disabled people now make up 27% of the Canadian population. I think we deserve to have our needs taken into consideration too – because when something is made more accessible for us, it’s more accessible for everyone. 

One comment on “Neighbourhood Accessibility

Pam Horton

Well said. For a moment there, I thought I was going for a walk with you in my neighborhood!

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