Posted on 24 January 2013 by Keith Lacey
Mayor Stu Wells said Town of Osoyoos council should make it a priority and do everything in its power to make Osoyoos the most accessible community in the country for disabled people.
“I think council should move on this so that Osoyoos is the most accessible community in Canada,” said Wells, speaking to councillors during Monday’s regular meeting of town council via conference call while on vacation in California.
Wells made his comments after members of council asked senior administration to prepare a short list of improvements that would increase accessibility for municipally-owned buildings, facilities, sidewalks and intersections.
Back in September, council approved the idea of conducting an official accessibility audit of all of the property it owns and manages.
A detailed 80-page report called the Town of Osoyoos Accessibility Audit, Draft Report, was discussed by members of council Monday.
The report, said Wells, indicates the town “is OK” when it comes to providing access to its buildings and facilities for the disabled.
“I don’t think we’ve fallen behind, but I also don’t think we’ve moved ahead either” compared to the last audit done many years ago, said Wells.
The report was prepared by the Social Planning and Research Council (SPARC), a company located in Burnaby.
During the month of October, SPARC staff visited Osoyoos to conduct the audit and completed a detailed audit of all municipal buildings in this community, including Town Hall, the Sun Bowl Arena, local parks, sidewalks and intersections, the art gallery, fire hall, the old Interior Health building and Sonora Community Centre, said Gerald Davis, the town’s director of community services.
“We wanted to get a second opinion of how accessible we are as a town,” said Davis to council.
The report indicates there are upgrades needed at all of the facilities that were looked at to make them fully accessible, ranging from minor fixes that would cost little or no money to major projects that would have significant economic impact on the town’s budget, said Davis.
The ultimate goal is to provide upgrades to buildings and facilities so that all residents of this community can have easy access, but it’s not going to happen overnight, he said.
“I think overall it’s important to know people with disabilities will be able to access what’s offered in the community all the time,” said Davis.
While working at a job in Alberta before coming to Osoyoos, Davis said he spent a full day in a wheelchair to get a first-hand look at the challenges faced by disabled people and it was a rewarding and eye-opening experience.
After reading the draft report, Davis said it’s obvious there are many things that can be done at little to no cost to improve accessibility “that would have a significant impact right away.”
There are provincial and federal grants available to assist municipalities in performing upgrades to facilities, buildings and infrastructure like sidewalks and intersections, he said, adding some of the available grants require matching funding from municipalities and others provide full funding if a town meets all the requirements during the application process.
Coun. C.J. Rhodes said after reading the draft report that he agrees making a lot of easy and simple upgrades to municipal buildings and facilities should be highlighted as quickly as possible in a staff report and brought back to council for approval as quickly as possible.
“A lot of these things are not big ticket items,” he said.
One example of an easy fix with little cost to the town would be adding several new outdoor washrooms to town staff’s regular maintenance schedules, said Barry Romanko, the town’s chief administrative officer.
“We can generate a report to improve assistance as quickly as possible,” said Romanko.
Accessibility is important everywhere, but particularly in Osoyoos, which is home to an older population and a lot of people who use scooters, walkers and wheelchairs and others who have visual and hearing impairments, said Wells.
Wells suggested Osoyoos hold an “Accessibility Day” with councillors spending some time in a wheelchair to encourage further discussion on the issue and show the public this issue is an important one that is being tackled by council and senior administration.
Members of the public realize not all accessibility issues can be solved at once, but council must continue to show this issue is a priority, he said.
“We can’t get things done all at once, but we can start working on it and keep improving,” he said.
Council supported a motion for staff to come up with a list of items that would improve accessibility to municipal buildings and facilities in the next couple of weeks.
“Accessibility in our community should be one of our primary goals,” said Coun. Michael Ryan.
Romanko promised that list would be completed before the next council meeting the first week in February or the second meeting in late February.
The complete draft report is available at the town’s website.