Thursday, July 3, 2014

Accessible community design paramount for independent living

My dad uses a walker when at home and uses a scooter when going around town; one of my best friends is a full-time wheelchair user. Because of this, building an accessible community hits particularly close to home for me. For all people, building a community that supports living with dignity and independence is critical.

It is no surprise that many people with limited mobility choose to live in Downtown areas with shops and services within a close walk or wheel. For example, my parents live in Downtown Kelowna. My dad’s highlight of the day is when he can scooter down to the local coffee shop and chat with other people in the community. While he lives in Kelowna, this same type of activity happens in Downtown Langley.

When the IGA in the Langley Mall closed down, it impacted the quality of live for many people with limited mobility in the area, as they lost an easily accessible place to hang out with others in the community. They also lost a place to shop for basic needs.

Because the two remaining grocery stores in the City of Langley are at the far ends of the community, the Langley Senior Resources Society and one of the remaining grocers partnered to provide a limited shuttle service. Of course even with a shuttle, people’s independence and quality of life has suffered. A "No Frills" has now replaced the IGA.

Having had to deal with para-transit services like HandyDart directly, as well as other similar services, I can tell you that it isn’t a panacea for independent living for people with disabilities. With a HandyDart type service, you basically have only very limited service that can get you to the doctor, for example. Also, traveling on HandyDart can be a humiliating experience. With the massive service cuts to HandyDart, this service is getting worse.

Many people thing that taxis are the solution. While taxis certainly play an important role in providing independence for some people, they are expensive. Also, many taxi drivers are ill-equipped when it comes to providing service for people with disabilities, which can lead to a less-than-dignified experience.

Driving is not an option for many people with limited or no mobility. Many people, due to a disability, are on a fixed income, so owning and operating a car is not affordable. For those that can afford to own and operate a car, it can be inconvenient or unsafe for them to drive.

When I talk with people with limited mobility about how communities should be designed, I hear a few common things. One is that shops, services, and social opportunities should be close to where people live.

On street design, sidewalks need to be in a state of great repair. Sidewalks should be wide, smooth, and have proper curb letdowns. Also, streets need to have closely spaced benches to allow people to rest, if need be.

It is no surprise that many seniors and people with disabilities choose to live in Downtown Langley due to its walkability, which supports an accessible community. This is why building a walkable Langley is important to me.

No comments: