Disability advocate says not enough being done in Osoyoos

By on October 10, 2017

Mike Stiles has written to Osoyoos town council to express his frustration with the lack of progress on accessibility issues in this community. He says sidewalks and store access are still problems. (Keith Lacey photo)

More than 30 years after Canadian icon Rick Hansen wheeled around the world to raise awareness of disability issues, Mike Stiles says he remains greatly disheartened so little has been done to address these issues in his adopted hometown here in Osoyoos.

Stiles, who suffered serious injuries as a teenager after being thrown by a horse and has used a wheelchair for all of his adult life, said he’s tried to silently lead the charge to improve accessibility issues in Osoyoos for more than 20 years.

Stiles has been a vocal and outspoken advocate for improved accessibility for the physically disabled and an active member of several organizations, including being a veteran board member with Accessible Okanagan.

However, he says very little has been done to improve accessibility for those in wheelchairs and others with serious mobility issues.

In a letter he sent to Mayor Sue McKortoff and all council members in early September, Stiles voices his frustration over what he perceives to be the lack of progress on accessibility issues in this community.

“I am, for the most part, too easy going and believe at some point things will get better when it comes to disability issues,” said Stiles in his letter. “I am also really lucky that I can drive (motor vehicle), so I don’t have to use the sidewalks very much and admit how bad they are until I have to use them.

“It was 30 years ago that Rick Hansen wheeled around the world (Man in Motion Tour) to raise the awareness of disability issues and it’s a sad fact that still today, there are stores in Osoyoos which are not wheelchair accessible and many areas where it is safer to wheel on the street than on the sidewalk.”

Stiles was heavily involved in preparing an “accessibility audit” that was submitted to the Town in 2013. The condition of the sidewalks were identified as key concerns, as was the wheelchair ramp leading into council chambers.

“Almost four years later and nothing has been done,” said Stiles, in an interview late last week. “I really don’t like to ruffle feathers, but lately I’ve become upset realizing that nothing at all has changed in this town when it comes to accessibility issues since the day that accessibility audit was handed in.”

In his letter, Stiles further writes, “Given the number of disabled people already in Osoyoos and with one of the highest average ages in the entire province, I wonder when accessibility will become a priority.

“I saw when there were rallies to save our (high) school, the Town offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to save it, so perhaps that’s what it will take. Maybe demanding that each and every Town decision maker either wheel around or walk blindfolded throughout Town and watch a couple of them eat a piece of the sidewalk or pavement would be a quicker idea.

“There are people with disabilities who use the sidewalks and other areas daily and if nothing is done, it’s not if, but when someone is (going to be) seriously injured or killed. So the time for being easy going is over and the time has come to demand something is done now.”

Stiles said he met earlier this summer, in early July, with Jim Dinwoodie, the Town’s director of operational services, during which time they took a walk from Town Hall to downtown.

“This was done because there are many spots which are hard to manoeuvre in a wheelchair and could be a tripping hazard to a visually impaired person,” he said.

Dinwoodie was very accommodating and helpful, but made it clear there is very little money in the budget to proceed with any significant upgrades to Town infrastructure to address accessibility concerns for those in wheelchairs, said Stiles.

“He told me about the planned sewer maintenance at Main Street and 85th Street, which would fix the sidewalks at that intersection,” said Stiles. “That’s great news because that intersection is one of the worst in town. Unfortunately, it was also stated there was very little, if anything, for ongoing sidewalk maintenance or upgrades.”

Stiles said he recently rode in his electric wheelchair from Lakeshore Drive to his home on Pinehurst Place and one of the worst areas was along the “hotel strip.”

His wheelchair became stuck on a concrete cut out and he was fortunate a passing motorist stopped and assisted him, he said.

“I proceeded the rest of the way on the street instead of the sidewalk,” he said.

Given the amount of people in Osoyoos with accessibility concerns and the Town’s official proclamation announced a couple of years ago to become an “age friendly community and snowbird destination, this is a huge concern,” said Stiles.

The ramp heading into council chambers at Town Hall is a shining example of the lack of progress on accessibility issues, said Stiles.

“It’s a hazard that has not been fixed,” he said. “I went in for a photo op for Access Awareness Day on May 26. I thought to myself as I left that I had to be extremely careful not to hit a crack and fall face first onto the ground. What a great picture that would have made.”

Stiles, who has called Osoyoos home since 2001, said he will continue to push for change.

“This issue needs some attention,” he said. “I’m not sure how much of the sidewalks in Town are a shared responsibility between the Town and Province, but if they are, the Province has to be contacted to help address it and an action plan to fix things up has to be developed.”

Stiles says more than 10 per cent of Canadians are living with some form of physical disability “and I’m sure those numbers are much higher in Osoyoos where we have a much older average population.”

It takes “money and political will to make change” and he will continue to work hard to ensure accessibility issues become a priority in this community, said Stiles.

“Like I said earlier, I’m lucky because I can drive and I have a wife and family that supports me,” he said. “Most people with disabilities probably don’t have that luxury.”

KEITH LACEY

Osoyoos Times

Mayor Sue McKortoff proclaimed June 3 as Access Awareness Day in Osoyoos, stressing that communities should be as accessible and inclusive as possible. Mike Stiles (right), who attended the proclamation, has recently written to town council to express disappointment at the rate of progress. His wheelchair has become stuck on some sidewalks and he sometimes finds it safer to ride it on the roads. (Richard McGuire file photo)

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One Comment

  1. Elaine Taylor

    October 11, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Great article Mr. Stiles…..when I moved to Osoyoos 42 years ago I really didn’t have any thoughts about making our streets and access ways better for those with mobility or vision issues. Since becoming legally blind and also requiring a scooter to navigate the town I have become very aware of the many hazards around. I have often felt that I would like to lend my scooter to any of the town council or mayor for a day just to experience what it is like on our sidewalks and entrances to buildings…..I’m open to that offer so please put some thought into actually fixing these issues……thanks.

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