Disabled advocates quit city committee, citing slow progress

The former chair of the committee that advises the City of Whitehorse on disability issues says the group’s recommendations are being ignored.

The former chair of the committee that advises the City of Whitehorse on disability issues says the group’s recommendations are being ignored.

Rick Goodfellow recently resigned from the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee along with two other members, Helen Strelioff and George White.

He called on City Manager Christine Smith to be more proactive about making changes to city policies and practices.

“We know that right now the only way to implement the bits and pieces we’ve been working on is through the city manager,” he said.

“What it comes down to is that we’ve hit a crossroads with this committee. We’ve made a lot of recommendations that have been ignored or we don’t know what happened to them.”

The committee, made up of six members, asked the city years ago to adopt a set of standards created by the Canadian Standards Association.

The guidelines – called Accessible Design for the Built Environment – set technical requirements for making buildings accessible to people with a range of physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities.

As it stands, the National Building Code is the standard adopted by the City of Whitehorse. But it doesn’t go far enough to meet the needs of disabled residents, Goodfellow said.

If the City had adopted the CSA’s standards, it would have avoided what it went through with Softball Yukon recently, he added.

Last month, Bonnie Dalziel and Dianne Williams addressed members of Whitehorse city council to bring attention to accessibility issues at Softball Yukon’s facilities, the Pepsi Softball Centre and the Robert Service fields.

They mentioned a number of issues such as a lack of handicap parking spaces, the need for handrails on bleachers and extra space for caregivers with friends in wheelchairs.

The non-profit, whose lease agreement was up for renewal with the City, signed an agreement promising to undertake a review of accessibility issues at the parks. But nothing forces the organization to actually improve its infrastructure.

“The City has to adopt new standards so those organizations have something to meet,” Goodfellow said.

City council has also had its Accessibility Bylaw before it for more than a year, Goodfellow added, but has yet to pass it.

It’s a document that would ensure that new houses built in the city could be made accessible in the future.

Vancouver passed a similar bylaw in 2013, Goodfellow said. All new single-family homes and townhouses built there will include wider doorways, hallways, stairways and two peep-holes in front doors, including one at wheelchair height.

It’s part of the strategy to get more people to age in place and fewer people moving to long-term care facilities, Goodfellow said.

“Senior city managers stalled it (the bylaw) but it was supposed to be in place by the first this year,” he said.

“They said they couldn’t tell people how to design their houses. They dug their heels in and as a result, it could be another two years before it’s passed.

“As someone told me, we’ll lose the opportunity to make Whistle Bend homes accessible, where people could age in.”

There is mention of the bylaw in the minutes of the Aug. 24 city council meeting, where it is listed under “current efforts” in the quarterly report for May to July.

Goodfellow said another reason he resigned is the way Smith dealt with the committee, including removing items from the agenda without notice and suggesting that meetings be held quarterly, instead of monthly.

“After a while you feel like there has to be a better way of doing this, there’s no sense in knocking heads,” he said.

Smith said anyone who has participated on a committee is entitled to present his/her perspective.

The role of the committee is to give an accessibility perspective, she said, and to bring forward issues “with respect to certain city projects.”

“It’s one of the considerations that council and administration have when they bring forward projects,” she added.

Smith said the committee could move towards creating an annual work plan in order to help both parties plan more efficiently into the future.

“It’s very costly to update old infrastructure, but when we’re doing new stuff, it’s easier to implement accessibility standards,” she said.

The City is currently selecting members to fill the vacant seats on the committee, Smith said. 

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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