Access the Valley project aims for accessibility info

Goal is to gather information that is useful for visitors with mobility issues in one web location.

Invermere residents Kate Gibbs and Cassy Campbell would like to make travel to the Columbia Valley easier for visitors with disabilities. The Columbia Valley Pioneer

Lorene Keitch, The Columbia Valley Pioneer April 5, 2018

Thanks to funding from the Columbia Valley Community Foundation, and partnered with the foundation and Greenways Trail Alliance, this six month project focuses on reviews of area businesses, trails, plus highlighting accessible parking stalls and washrooms.

Ms. Gibbs was born with Cerebral Palsy, and uses either an electric wheelchair or walks with assistance. Ms. Campbell is engaged in the project because her husband suffered a spinal cord injury in 2015, and she has had her eyes opened to the challenges faced by people with mobility concerns.

“Whenever we travel outside town, there really is very little information (available) to make travel plans,” explains Ms. Campbell.

Wheelchair Parking and Bathrooms – Downtown Invermere. Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce

When they travel, the Campbells try to research businesses, restaurants, attractions, and anywhere else they may want to go to confirm the accessibility status. This information is never readily available or in one location, Ms. Campbell explains. That sparked the idea that visitors to the Valley would face the same challenges as the Campbells do when they travel outside the community. She reached out to Ms. Gibbs to launch the project together.

Ms. Gibbs, who recently graduated from the College of the Rockies Human Service Worker program, came home unsure of what to do next and jumped at the idea.

The reviews are primarily photo-based, and focus on businesses tourists may use when visiting the Valley.

“Photos are far more effective because it covers everybody,” says Ms. Campbell. “Our goal is to provide the information for you to decide.”

Each review includes photos of the entryway door, with notes such as ‘ramp up to door’, or ‘heavy PUSH door’. The review makes readers aware if the door is level, and if assistance would be required to open it. There are images of the bathrooms, including details about grab bars, accessible sinks, and door widths. Even features like if the counters are low enough for wheelchair users to view items, or if there are non-slip mats, are itemized in each review.

As the reviews are written by a person with limited mobility, the perspective is unique and provides tips that able-bodied citizens may not consider. For example, in the review of Sobeys, Ms. Gibbs gives the helpful tip, “if you have trouble cutting meat up, like I do with my one hand, and you ask ahead of time, the staff in the meat department will pre-cut your package of meat for you.”

Many of the comments for accessible businesses include statements about the friendliness or willingness of staff to assist. Ms. Gibbs says more than the physical barriers to accessibility, it is important to be socially aware of customers of varying abilities.

“Talk to the person, not just the caregiver,” says Ms. Gibbs.

Ms. Campbell adds if you have a tall counter at your place of work, walk around the counter to speak to the individual so you can be heard and seen by the customer.

“Treat them with the same hospitality and respect as everybody else that comes here to visit,” urges Ms. Campbell.

The project started in November 2017. They have done eight reviews so far, with plans to do approximately 20 by the time the project funding ends. The team hopes to source out more funding so the project can be extended past this May.

While it is hard to judge how this might increase tourism, Ms. Gibbs and Ms. Campbell both assure from personal experience that they will shop in accessible businesses or attend accessible events, and by extension with friends and family, far more than non-accessible locations. Ms. Gibbs and Ms. Campbell posture this project will certainly draw more tourists into the Valley with accessibility issues. Seven per cent of Canadians face mobility issues, with the number rising to 20.6 per cent for Canadians aged 65 and older (according to Statistics Canada 2012 census).

Ms. Gibbs says with her father having been a small business owner, she understands the stress they face just managing their business, and that accessibility concerns do not always top the priority list. However, with small changes, like doorbells and temporary ramps, businesses can go from being inaccessible to accessible in a short time.

And if you do not think this project is relevant to you, Ms. Campbell urges you to keep this in mind: “We are all only temporarily able-bodied. One day, this will matter to you.”

If you own a business and would like an accessibility review for Access the Valley, contact Ms. Gibbs. If you would like to have a consultation session with Ms. Gibbs to assess your location’s accessibility concerns, she is also available for contract work.

The Chamber of Commerce is supporting the project by hosting space on their site for Access the Valley.

Source The Columbia Valley Pioneer

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