Posted By KAESHA FORAND/Tribune Staff
April 5, 2010
WELLAND — Not being able to access offices at a city hall or the library or being visually impaired and unable to see crosswalk signals are challenges some people with disabilities face every day.
But Welland is complying with new accessibility legislation, including to install audible pedestrian crossings, retrofit buildings and purchase wheelchair
A new customer service standard requires that municipalities develop policies and procedures to serve all citizens with disabilities. Municipalities must
file a compliance report annually by March 31.
Most municipalities will have met the deadline, but according to Russ Findlay, chair of the city’s 10-member accessibility advisory committee, a number
of municipalities won’t have the opportunity to file their reports in such honest detail as Welland.
Customer service standard seminars have provided city staff, transit, public works and fire and emergency services staff with education in recognizing various disabilities.
The city has developed policies to ensure guide dogs or service animals are permitted throughout the city, a process is in place for receiving feedback
from people with disabilities, staff are trained to use assistive equipment and a system is in place so that people with disabilities are notified in case
of service interruptions.
“Knowing the city would be forced to comply, the city made plans to comply,” Findlay said.
The accessibility committee was formed in 2003, as a result of a then new Ontarians with Disabilities Act, to identify barriers in the city and ways to
remove those barriers.
“It has evolved to assist the city to comply with accessibility standards. The customer service standard is the first of five to come into law.”
Accessibility barriers may include curbs, broken sidewalks, city building designs and a lack of assistive hearing systems in arenas.
Findlay, whose multiple sclerosis left him wheelchair bound, said he “can’t give enough praise to this city” for its actions.
“The city is welcoming and realized back in 2003 that it had a responsibility. It made a commitment and stayed with it.”
It’s not only an advantage for disables residents, but also makes life easier for able-bodied residents, including mothers with strollers or delivery men
with large packages who can simply push a button to open doors.
Had the city not complied with the customer service standard, the accessibility directorate of Ontario could have enforced penalties.
Changes that have occurred throughout the city include updated sidewalks and curb ramps, a new wheelchair accessible area at the arena, a completely accessible civic square, and audible pedestrian crossings at Niagara St.-Woodlawn Rd, and Wellington-East Main Sts. intersections that chirp when lights change for residents who have vision impairments. The public building on Merritt Island was made accessible, the arena and city council chambers were outfitted with a sound system for the hearing impaired and three Welland Transit routes are outfitted with accessible low floor buses, with more to come.
“Every day I go out I see people in wheelchairs and scooters going down the street and it makes me smile.”
Four additional standards expected soon to be proclaimed into law are for: new buildings, outdoor venues and restaurants; transit; information and communications for the visually and hearing impaired; and hiring people with disabilities.
The city’s accessibility committee will continue to help the city comply with new standards as they become law.
“No doubt about it, there is not a community more accessible than Welland. If we’re not No. 1, we’re tied.”
Article ID# 2520931
Reproduced from http://www.wellandtribune.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2520931