By Jenn Watt
Posted March 22, 2011
Even small changes to how businesses are physically organized can make a big difference to people with mobility issues.
In Haliburton, a lot of those changes still need to be made, the county’s Aging Well accessibility committee has found.
In a “silent” survey of 137 Haliburton businesses, only 25 per cent were accessible to people in walkers, wheelchairs or pushing strollers.
Fifty-six per cent were accessible to those using canes and 19 per cent were accessible to only able-bodied people.
“I was thinking, how much of a problem is this getting into these stores? I thought, let’s do a survey,” said Bev Kraulis, a member of the committee.
Along with her husband Olaf and committee members Diana McCullough and Richard Hanson, Kraulis visited businesses, offices and churches silently surveying.
“We wanted to see how much of a problem this really is. So, we were interested in whether they had stairs, the height of stairs, whether they had a railing, whether they had a grab bar and when it got up to the door, whether they had an opener on the door, whether it was easy to open this door,” Kraulis said.
They found that all three designated heritage buildings in town were at least partially accessible – the Rails End Gallery was harder to reach due to new
curbs on York Street; the municipal building had most accessibility features and Heritage Café had a side patio door for easy access.
A similar survey done in Minden by Margaret Graham had similar findings.
Of the 115 businesses Graham visited, 28 per cent were accessible to only able-bodied people; 22 per cent to those in wheelchairs and walkers; and 50 per cent to those with canes.
The Aging Well committee is an independent body comprised of county residents working toward making the community a better place in which to grow old.
In a county with a quarter of its population senior citizens and 15 per cent disabled, creating accessible buildings makes good business sense.
Terry Hicks lives with mobility issues. In his opinion, the businesses that put money into making their places accessible will reap the rewards. “Whatever you can have for an edge, maybe you should think about,” he said in an interview last year with the Echo.
“I was in front of Curry Motors … and a woman and a man pulled up in a car and I heard her say to him, ‘look they’ve got those disabled doors.’ … It does
have an impact. There are stores in Haliburton that would be very, very easy to make accessible and there are some that are virtually impossible,” he said.
With the inaccessible businesses also come those who have made tangible improvements.
Kraulis points to the grab bars on the front of JanKnit’s Studio on Highland Street, the handrail on Royal LePage; the automatic doors on Foodland, Independent, Rexall, the banks, LCBO and Beer Store, to name a few.
For JanKnit’s owner, Janet Sheehey, putting grab bars on her store seemed natural and it ended up being inexpensive. “I, myself, look for a handrail. There just wasn’t anything and the step … steps out into nowhere land,” recalls Sheehey of the process.
Two inexpensive shower grab bars were easily installed and painted to match the décor of the shop.
The added accessibility feature has also increased traffic to JanKnit’s, Sheehey believes.
“I think it certainly helps. That’s the first thing seniors do – they look at the stairs and whether they’re cleaned and that kind of stuff,” she said.
Other barriers businesses may have include dimly lit stores, snow banks blocking stores, high service counters, loud background music, narrow aisles, heavy doors and high steps.
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