To the editor:
Kelowna seems to be, by most measures, one of the best places on earth to live. I can’t imagine a better or more beautiful place in which to work, live, play and eventually raise my children.
It is an almost perfect place to live—unless, of course, you are an individual with a handicap.
In this ‘able-ist’ society it is hard to imagine what it might be like to be unable to walk up to your favourite store, open the door, and shop at your leisure without having to worry about the size of the aisles or whether or not you can fit yourself and your wheelchair into the change room.
It is also easy to overlook the fact that the restaurant at which you made a reservation has three small steps leading to the entrance—easily overcome by an able walking person but hell for the person in a wheelchair or with a painful disability like lupus.
I don’t blame the citizens of Kelowna who are able-bodied for overlooking these daily challenges. As able-bodied people we have the privilege of not thinking about it—or if we do think about persons with disabilities it is when the times are exceptional, like during a telethon or the Paralympics. There is hardly a thought put into the daily lives of people who live with these challenges in the day-to-day goings-on of life.
I am an able-bodied person but my younger sister is not. She uses a wheelchair to get around and she has for her whole life. And for her entire life she has had to make exceptions in her day-to-day living simply because the world (and Kelowna) is not accommodating.
Sure, there are ramps here and there at local businesses and a lot of big box stores have motion censored doors and big aisles to walk through. But really, think about the average business in the downtown core. Think about the small doorways and little steps just to get in.
Every single day my sister has to plan to be wherever it is she is going at least 10 minutes early to make sure it is accessible for her to get in. Once she is in it might be another story. Often bathrooms are too small—or if they are wide enough the sink is too high which can be hard to manoeuvre without another person helping.
One of the biggest challenges for my hockey-loving sister is trying to find wheelchair seating at a weekly Rockets hockey game. For an average hockey game Prospera place can seat approximately 6,800 people at capacity (including suites). Of those 6,800 seats approximately only 26 of them are wheelchair accessible. That means that .003 per cent of the arena is open to persons who are unable to walk or stand.
Luckily for my sister the personnel at Prospera Place are excellent at trying to find seating for her when she would like to see a game. However, she will never have the luxury of just walking (or rolling!) up to the box office and buying a ticket at the last minute because weeks of planning must go into any sort of event like this.
I write this letter today because I know that city council elections are coming up and I am tired of seeing the struggle my sister goes through to do the things that I take for granted.
I am tired of seeing her disappointed face when we are turned away from a restaurant because there is no physical space for her wheelchair or seeing her wait outside of a store because the door is too narrow.
And I am definitely tired of the folks who claim, “Oh gee, I never thought of that before,” and basically rendering my sister (and others like her) invisible in a town that should be, in theory, inclusive to all.
I hope this letter may provide some information to the ‘able-bodied’ citizens and business owners of Kelowna and may you read this and educate yourselves and make Kelowna a little more accessible to all.