September 5, 2012
By Mark Pavilons
Being part of the process to affect a change in awareness is what keeps volunteers of the Township’s Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) going.
In fact, it brings King’s communities closer together.
The committee is looking for some new blood to serve on this “official” committee that acts to advise council on accessibility issues. The group has made some inroads in the past 10 years or so by helping to increase access to Township programs, services and facilities to those with disabilities.
The committee has some teeth, thanks to mandates contained in both the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2001) and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005).
The committee is charged with alerting council to situations where there is a barrier limiting or preventing disabled residents from fully participating. The committee promotes ways of eliminating the barrier or reducing its impact.
It can be a slow process at times, given financial limitations, but increasing awareness is key to the committee’s success.
Nobleton’s Beverly Berger, a visually impaired committee member since the group’s inception, has been helping to change attitudes and break down barriers.
She’s the “real deal” because she lives and breathes her disability.
Over the years, she has gained a significant insight and a greater depth of understanding of other disabilities, through her committee work.
She’s noticed a significant change in the public’s mindset about disabilities in the past decade, and it all comes down to awareness.
Government legislation and awareness campaigns have encouraged education on all levels and a lot of it starts with young people. Those students with disabilities today are now part of the mainstream system, to the point where they’re becoming part of the norm. Eliminating ignorance and fostering inclusion goes a long way to improving the plight of the disabled.
Berger recalls the attention she attracted when she received her first dog guide and put away her white cane. Today, service dogs abound.
Awareness of disabilities is for everyone – it’s not limited to the disabled. There are no guarantees in life, Berger observed, and any one of us can become disabled at any time.
With regards to ensuring public buildings are accessible – mandated through legislation – one has to be practical, she said. Changes to buildings require a great deal of money and so it’s an ongoing process. Budgetary constraints are a reality and while every building should have automatic doors, they’re horrendously expensive. In a perfect world, they’d be everywhere, Berger said.
The King City Library is a prime example of accessibility in this municipality, she said. With regards to facilities, it’s easy to criticize and point out the shortcomings, but you have to be practical as well as creative and innovative with solutions.
Working on the committee has been fun and educational. Berger said members feel empowered being part of the municipal process and helping to make a difference in their community.
“If you have a disability, you want to help,” she said.
The committee meets once a month and they’re more than accommodating to the needs of its members. Disabled members are encouraged, so they can provide their unique insights. Council and staff are appreciative of the efforts of its volunteers, so Berger is urging others to get involved.
Council has extended the deadline for volunteers to Sept. 7. Call the Township or visit www.king.ca for more details on how to get involved.