Improving Cochrane’s accessibility
Thursday, Feb 05, 2015 06:00 am
Last fall, 19-year-old Elisa Neven-Pugh decided to take some action to make a change in her community. She sent out an email hoping to bring awareness to the issue of accessibility in Cochrane, an issue she has had to deal with herself.
“I want to make this town beautiful for all,” said Neven-Pugh with a smile, as she discussed the topic at Cochrane Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).
Neven-Pugh is currently a student at Mount Royal University and has cerebral palsy. She graduated from Bow Valley High School, a school that her and her father, Jay Pugh, both agreed was great in terms of accessibility for Neven-Pugh, who is in a wheelchair.
“They were amazing to Elisa,” said Pugh.
Working with FCSS and other Town of Cochrane staff, Neven-Pugh said her main goal is to raise awareness about access to different businesses and services around Cochrane for all people, not just those in a wheelchair.
She wants a community that is connected and everyone feels a part of.
“It’s frustrating because my friends have to accommodate me when we got out. It would be nice if we could go where they want to go,” said Neven-Pugh.
She talked about simple things that businesses and facilities may not be aware of when thinking about accessibility, such as spacing of shelves, automatic doors that close too quickly or the placement of ramps. “It is the difference between going someplace and not,” she explained.
Neven-Pugh added that often times she is forced to go to Calgary for things such as recreation and shopping. She said not being able to access places locally can cause ‘a serious case of cabin fever’ and feelings of isolation for people.
Mike Korman is the manager of economic development with the Town of Cochrane and pointed out that Cochrane has a high percentage of elderly people and a very high percentage of young families, both of which may have accessibility issues.
“When you think about the elderly moving around with potentially a wheelchair, or walker or cane, or you think about the young mom who has got the baby carriage and the bags and the strollers – them being able to access where they want to go is important,” he said.
This could quickly become an issue, particularly for seniors, who, according to the government of Canada, make up the fastest-growing age group in Canada. According to a report from Statistics Canada in 2011, around ‘five million Canadians were 65 years of age or older, a number that is expected to double in the next 25 years to reach 10.4 million seniors by 2036.’
One of the actions Korman said they plan on taking is reviewing the bylaws with planning over the next quarter to ‘ensure that they are applicable and consistent’ and see if there are any opportunities for improvement.
“We want to update our bylaws to make sure that they are based on the standards of the disabled and the elderly and make sure we have our homework done,” said Korman.
He said businesses that have been around for a while were likely compliant with the bylaws that were in place at the time. If the bylaws have changed in any way, Korman said they would not actually need to do any changes until they make another development permit application.
He did point out that Cochrane is growing very fast, so as future development comes along they want to make sure they are paying attention to this issue.
“When new applications come in we want to make sure that we’re seeing a change in accessibility for the new buildings and as older buildings start to change ownership they would be adhering to new laws and new bylaws,” he said.
Korman said they would also be celebrating businesses around town that are very accessible with a campaign called ‘Accessibility Champions’. Businesses that are very accessible will be featured in a media and marketing campaign by the town to ‘ensure people are aware this is an issue that needs attention.’
Susan Flowers and practicum student Kayla Spelliscy, both with FCSS, have been working with Neven-Pugh on raising awareness. They said that they also plan on releasing a survey to local businesses regarding the topic of accessibility. They are also working on an information page for the town website that would have resources for people who have accessibility issues and information on bylaws.
For Neven-Pugh it all comes down to perspective, saying that businesses may follow the rules, but don’t look at their accessibility through the eyes of a person who may be disabled.
Neven-Pugh said from the beginning she was determined to take something that had become a frustration and turn it into motivation to make a change and bring awareness, something she said she hopes other young people do.
“If you’re young, you should do something if you don’t feel it’s right. It doesn’t matter who you are, you can make a difference.”