‘If you have to ask then it is not accessible’
By Jonathan Juha, Postmedia News
Saturday, October 7, 2017
From left to right, Cindy Walker, Sean Beech and their children, Theodore and Hendrik; UPS employee Ron Musselman; and Roger Koert, chair of the city’s accessibility advisory committee. They are all supporters and beneficiaries of the StopGap initiative and would like to see it expand, so participating businesses leave the ramps outside during business hours.
Intended as a way to improve access to local businesses, Stratford’s accessibility committee joined in 2014 the StopGap movement.
As part of the Canada-wide initiative, the local group provided businesses with single step storefronts in the city with a ramp that can easily be installed and removed, so people who have difficulties climbing steps can have easy access to the stores.
Now the same committee is looking to expand the scope of the program, by asking businesses to leave the ramp out at all times during business hours.
The way the program works right now, people needing to use the ramp can contact participating businesses so they can bring the ramp out for them. After it is used, businesses can remove the ramp until someone else asks for it again.
But sometimes letting someone know the ramp is needed can be a challenge, said Roger Koert, chair of the city’s accessibility advisory committee and who is spearheading the initiative.
“For example, when I’m by myself, I can’t send someone in to get the ramp for me,” he said. “But this way people can easily enter those spaces by themselves.
“So I would like the businesses that have the ramps to leave them out during business hours, where and when it is reasonable.
“Those ramps are not imposing any more of an obstruction than chairs or sandwich boards on the sidewalk,” he added.
While not a common practices, some businesses that participate in the program already do that.
One of those businesses is Harmony by Earthwinds on Ontario Street.
“The way our business is set up, I could be way at the back doing something else, and if somebody needs it they have no way of contacting me, so they could be sitting out there for who knows how long, and that’s is just not good,” said Elizabeth Thomas, the store’s manager. “That’s why I make a point of having it out.
“For me, accessibility should always be there because if you have to ask to be let into a building, then it is not accessible.”
Up to this point, Thomas said she has never received a complaint about having the ramp out. Instead, she has seen many people take advantage of it.
“We see many personal support workers who have clients on wheelchairs come in using the ramp, but also moms with strollers,” she said. “Often when we think about accessibility, we think narrowly and think it is focused only for people in wheelchairs.”
Other businesses, however, while supportive of the idea’s goal, also expressed concerns over the possibility of people falling down if the ramps are always out, especially during the winter months.
To make the move official, council would have to accept changing the wording of the rules regulating the program right now, which states it will run on an “as needed basis.”
But while that is achieved, Koert would like businesses to adopt this new practice so people can benefit from it right away.
He also hopes people can understand that the program benefits not only people with physical disabilities but also delivery workers, elderly people and moms among others. And that accessibility is an issue that should concern all of us.
“Hopefully these ramps will help to initiate the conversation that accessibility isn’t just a wheelchair thing, but that it is important for everybody in the community to have equal access to all spaces,” he said.