On the eve of the nationally observed AccessAbility Week, which runs from May 28 to June 3, Compassion Yukon is sharing the results of a friendly audit of accessibility in downtown Whitehorse.
On March 31 and April 1 of this year, Compassion Yukon held an Accessibility Olympics that invited people who don’t normally face accessibility challenges to try navigating downtown streets and businesses using a range of mobility aids, including wheelchairs, canes and crutches. Participants were asked for their feedback and to rate the difficulty of travel.
Participants included Mayor Laura Cabott and members of the Whitehorse city council.
Myryja Friesen, one of the Compassion Yukon organizers behind the Accessibility Olympics, outlined the results. She said participants were asked to rank the difficulty of their experience from one, a walk in the park, to 10, hiking the Chilkoot Trail.
The highest difficulty reported by participants was a seven, and those who used crutches had the most challenging time on average.
Participants also rated the accessibility of the businesses they visited on a particular block of Whitehorse’s Main Street. Businesses were given either good, so-so or poor accommodations for different accessibility needs. Both sides of Main Street between Third Avenue and Second Avenue saw roughly half of the responses rated as “so-so.” The block on the north side of Main Street between Second Avenue and Front Street saw a roughly even split between the three possible ratings.
Barriers to accessibility identified by participants included snow and the location or condition of the ramps used to get from street level up to sidewalks or to access businesses. Signage identifying buttons that control automatic doors, the location of the buttons and the weight of doors in locations such as accessible washrooms were also identified as issues. Friesen added that some businesses had signs out that obstructed their accessibility ramps.
Friesen said the feedback from one participant who used a wheelchair was that: “Getting from the vehicle to the sidewalk was terrifying.”
With the information gathered from the Accessibility Olympics in hand, Friesen said she plans to share the results with the city in the near future. Some discussion about sidewalk ramps with the city’s fleet and maintenance department has already taken place. Friesen is seeking assistance from new volunteers as she plans another Accessibility Olympics for the winter months and another educational project. Compassion Yukon, a peer support network focused on assisting differently-abled people in the territory, can be reached via its Facebook page or by email at CompassionYukon@gmail.com.
During AccessAbility Week, Friesen encouraged people to reach out to the differently abled people they know with acts of kindness or to start a conversation about what accessibility looks like for them. Overall, she urges compassion and awareness of both visible and less visible disabilities.
As her own way of marking AccessAbility Week, Friesen, who is neurodivergent and experiences chronic pain, will be participating in a canoe trip from Carmacks to Dawson City. Friesen’s journey is one part of a canoe trip down the Yukon River to the Bering Sea organized by Art Huesonica of Arizona, who is making an effort to include people with disabilities on the trip as a way of fostering conversation around accessibility and memorializing his late brother who had cerebral palsy.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com