When Chris Beaton began using a mobility scooter and a wheelchair a couple of years ago, he did not realize how difficult it would be for him to get around downtown Summerland.
He had earlier been active, playing soccer and volleyball, but once he began using the scooter, he noticed many doors were closed to him.
These doors to businesses are difficult if not impossible for him to open on his own.
“It has become apparent that our town is woefully inadequate in terms of handicapped accessibility,” he said. “If you eliminate government offices, the number of buildings I can enter independently is basically zero.”
This means a friend, passer-by or staff member at a business must open the door for him.
Once inside, challenges continue as not all washrooms are accessible to those in scooters and wheelchairs. In some cases, the doors are not wide enough to accommodate a scooter or wheelchair.
In other cases, the configuration inside is unworkable, he said.
Beaton said he would like more businesses to install doors to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters, but added that the cost is significant, especially for a small business with limited resources.
As a result, he is suggesting the municipality offer two-year interest-free loans to allow businesses to install accessible doors.
Provincial and federal grants for accessibility have been available in the past.
Provincially, the B.C. Accessibility Grants, through the Rick Hansen Foundation have provided funding for a variety of projects including accessible parking spaces, building accesses, elevators or lifts, power-operated doors and accessible washrooms and showers.
The federal government has also offered funding for improved accessibility in recent years.
Mayor Toni Boot said the municipality has applied for the second phase of its age friendly grant. The age friendly initiative will be used to help all ages and all levels of mobility in Summerland.
In addition, the municipality’s downtown neighbourhood plan will come before the public. Part of the discussion around the plan can include mobility and accessibility, she said.
“If we want to make a downtown that is as accessible as possible, this is the time for that to come forward,” she said.
She added that while there are standards in place for new commercial buildings, older buildings already in place were constructed to the building code of the day and do not necessarily include accessibility features.
As a result, she has seen people struggling and needing assistance in order to enter certain business buildings in the community, she said.
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