Mayor Larry White was fulfilling a campaign promise Monday, August 31st. During the election campaign in 2008, Mayor White was asked if he would spend a day in a wheelchair to see how difficult it can be for people with disabilities to access some areas in town. He was up to the challenge and spent the day in a wheelchair to see how accessible and inaccessible places are in the downtown core.
Once you have had the chance to walk in someone else shoes, there is a good chance you become more compassionate and empathetic of their situation. Mayor White?s day long experiment was an eye opener. Mayor White commented he knew there were issues of accessibility in downtown Tumbler Ridge, but he never realized just how many there were.
Obstacles like the lack of automatic doors and being unable to reach things on high shelves are aplenty. However, Mayor White stated the biggest challenge was ?keeping the wheelchair form darting into traffic and keeping the wheels straight.? During his travels that day, Mayor White was surprised by the sloping sidewalks. The sidewalks slope towards the roads and it was difficult because the wheelchair had a ?tendency to go towards the road?. It was a struggle just to stay on the sidewalk. Cracks and bumps in sidewalks were also a hindrance. ?Sometimes you would get stuck?, explained Mayor White.
Crossing Southgate to get to Tumbler Ridge Inn was an endeavour. There were only ramps to get off the sidewalk at Founders Street and Front Street. Therefore, if in a wheelchair, one must choose to travel to either corner to cross the road. With help, Mayor White was able to negotiate the curb on the sidewalk, to cut down on distance he needed to travel.
Wanting to keep the experience as authentic as he could, Mayor White used the wheelchair accessible washroom at Tumbler Ridge Pharmacy. It was a challenge and a task Mayor White said he may need a lesson on if he is ever in a wheelchair for a long time. Accessibility is not an issue for the Pharmacy, as there are automatic doors on both entrances and a wide aisle to move through.
A visit to the Senior?s Corner in the Community Centre was halted abruptly due to a power outage that day. Just as Mayor White was going to visit the senior?s corner, the power went out. This of course meant there was no elevator available. The long route to get there, down Northgate, and to the back of the community centre, was a little intimidating. Unfortunately, the lack of access to the elevator, was enough to disrupt his plans and he did not get to the senior?s corner.
Being in the wheelchair was challenging mentally as well. It was hard accepting help from people, explained Mayor White. He felt not accepting help may hinder the next person who is in a wheelchair, as people may be less obliged to offer help if it was refused by him that day. Not being able to look a person in the eye while talking to them was also difficult, explained Mayor White. Always having to look up was an awkward experience.
The Senior?s Needs Committee has been focused on accessibility, therefore Mayor White was well aware of obstacles and challenges he would encounter that day.
The town of Tumbler Ridge is committed to continually improving accessibility. New handicap parking has been put in front of Town Hall and Mayor White is hoping more handicap parking will be placed in front of the library, to make the community centre even more accessible. Thankfully, there is also money in the budget for a new automatic door at Town Hall this year.
People who saw Mayor White that day were genuinely concerned. When people were told why he was in a wheelchair, relief was apparent. Mayor White said response to his experiment was overall positive. Apart from the one nay-sayer, people thought his day in a wheelchair was a ?good idea?.
It was a day of learning and a few surprises. There was a close call with a tree, scary moments going down a hill near Twilight Lodge and struggles with doors with awkward angles. After nearly 8 hours in the wheelchair, Mayor White was exhausted. After getting his legs back at the end of a long day, Mayor White went home and took a well deserved nap.