A wheelchair accessibility advocate says she is fed up with the City of Red Deer’s indifference.
Heather Dahl, who uses a wheelchair, has lobbied for accessibility in Red Deer for years. She said it is time the City ‘puts its money where its mouth is’.
In the wake of UN Disability Day on Dec. 3rd, Dahl said, City staff have been slow to respond to safety concerns and have ignored her complaints.
According to Dahl, accessibility is not a priority for the City of Red Deer. She said infrastructure and transportation need major attention. She added, that bylaws also need to be put in place for things like snow removal and enforced, to hold business owners accountable.
Mayor Tara Veer disagreed, stating the City has added stricter bylaws on commercial snow removal and is an early adopter of technology and strategies to improve accessibility.
“On the whole, we have made significant gains over the past couple of years to make Red Deer more accessible,” she said pointing to numerous initiatives by the City, including the accessibility audits conducted to inform future design.
Dahl has brought specific concerns about infrastructure and transit safety to the City on many occasions over the years. Top priorities for her are how the Action bus is run, sidewalks randomly leading to nowhere and snow removal.
“I’m frustrated,” Dahl said. “I have been ignored and my concerns have gone unaddressed.”
Dahl said the problem is able-bodied people are making decisions for people with disabilities. She believes because City employees are not using these services they don’t understand what is actually necessary and resources are being wasted, she said.
“On Action Bus, there’s a criticality to this service; we have to be cognizant of the fact that we take things for granted. We can drive a car and go whenever we want; for our Action Bus clients we have to try and understand what their needs are and adapt our service as best we can to serve those needs.”
While city employees maintain that you do not have to be disabled to be an effective advocate. According to Dahl, their efforts to anticipate the needs of people with disabilities are falling short.
City Transit Manager George Penny explained, in newly developed areas, handicapped accommodations are designed into the plans but for more mature communities like Dahl’s north side neighbourhood, these modifications have to be added after the fact.
“Some of the community points are not as accessible as we may hope, but we are working to change that,” he said. But he maintained, “transit overall is an accessible system, be it a conventional bus or an Action Bus.”
“It will take time to fully modernize all the existing infrastructure in the City,” Veer said.
Emphasizing accessibility is something they will continue to aspire towards.
“It’s a huge illusion,” said Dahl, who accesses the services every day.