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Path forward should be barrier-free: strides in accessibility a community effort

20 years ago, Collingwood formed an advisory committee to help break down barriers and make the town a more accessible place for all

A few decades ago, someone requiring the use of a wheelchair might have been met with closed doors or an impassable sidewalk. 

Though barriers still exist, advocates have pushed accessibility to the forefront of conversations and policies to create change. Collingwood installed an accessible dock and boat launch, allowing barrier-free access to competitive and recreational boating activities on Georgian Bay. 

It has taken a collective effort to bring about local changes.

Three years before the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities (AODA) Act came into effect (2005), Collingwood formed its own Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC)

Established in 2002, the role of the AAC is to provide advice to the municipal government to help make public services and facilities accessible to everyone. In the five-plus years Margaret Adolphe has served as committee chair, she has seen significant strides in making this town more accessible to all. 

“You look at Hurontario Street and the heritage district. Those buildings were built hundreds of years ago. Nobody thought of accessibility. Back then, if you couldn’t climb stairs you just stayed away. If you couldn’t get around or had limited ability, too bad,” said Adolphe. “Collingwood has done an excellent job in changing that."

The journey to accessibility continues and Adolphe continues to advocate for accessible services and facilities in Collingwood.

“Along with council, we have done a hell of a good job,” she said. “But there is still more we need to do so that everybody, regardless of their ability or disability, can use the services and have access to all of the facilities in town.”

Last year, the committee published a strategic, multi-year accessibility plan that would help the town achieve its goal of being an inclusive, multi-generational community dedicated to identifying, removing and preventing barriers to accessibility.

The five-year plan includes both new and continuing commitments that will “increase the visibility of accessibility” into all of the town’s initiatives and services, and “emphasize the importance of universal access for all.”

“I think that part is important. We want to attract all people,” Adolphe said. “And build on our unique profile as a major tourist destination, a retirement community, and a community that attracts businesses.”

According to Adolphe, the town is well on its way to accomplishing these goals. Most notably, the “biggest win” is that all of the town’s public spaces are now accessible — from Collingwood town hall and the Business Development Centre, to the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena and the Sunset Point washroom and canteen. 

Other accomplishments the committee noted in 2020 include promoting National Accessibility Awareness Week, investigating an accessibility shuttle, receiving and resolving various barrier identification complaints, and approving the 2020-2025 multi-year accessibility plan, among many others. 

“It’s all just part of making sure that people are accommodated, everyday,” said Adolphe. 

Jennifer Parker, coordinator of community well-being and inclusion, Parks, Recreation & Culture, said that providing the perspective of change through Adolphe, who has served on the committee for several years, helps paint a picture of the evolution that has taken place over time. 

“I think collectively, accessibility is part of all of our roles and responsibilities,” said Parker. “In reflecting with the committee… it’s a dynamic group, so hearing the different perspectives and experiences, either personal or through their engagement with the community, is so critical in terms of guiding that practice moving forward.”

Part of that is demonstrating the work that is being undertaken in all aspects of the community, which the strategic plan further expresses. 

“It is not only a focus on accessibility, but doing it in a way that is inclusive,” said Parker. “It looks at our public spaces, it looks at our play spaces, it looks at our customer service, ensuring that we look at each of those different pillars.”

For example, ensuring outdoor recreational spaces, such as trails and parks, are accessible for everyone as well. Recent examples include rebuilding the Harbourview Park Boardwalk to a new 10-foot width and adding a floating dock with a connected ramp, boat launch and fully accessible pathway from land to water to support barrier-free recreation, social boating activities, and participation in competitive paddling sports for all. 

“It is part of the everyday action that is so important in building a community that really supports a sense of belonging, a sense of inclusion and wellbeing across the lifespan, because accessibility impacts the lifespan,” said Parker.

Both women acknowledged making the town fully accessible is an ongoing conversation. 

Over this past year, for example, the pandemic has revealed issues or areas where certain barriers have affected some members of the community more than others.

“The pandemic has really highlighted how our more marginalized communities or individuals that are already facing barriers are impacted,” said Parker. 

Although, she added, the pandemic has allowed some services to become more accessible with the use of Zoom and other virtual programming as different ways of reaching people. 

Another one of the advisory committee’s main roles is building that awareness around accessibility and continuing the conversation in the community. 

“We are always learning and we are always growing and it is important to have those conversations,” said Parker. “Wherever we can facilitate engagement so that we can be proactive in our design, but also be able to respond to needs as they arise.”

Adding to that, Adolphe noted it is important for the community to not only have an outlet to raise their concerns, but for them to know they are being heard, as well.

“We want to make sure people feel comfortable if they do have a barrier or a complaint, that they can come forward and we will listen,” said Adolphe. 

Fortunately, Adolphe said that ever since she joined the committee, she cannot remember a single instance where a barrier was brought up that wasn’t resolved in a satisfactory manner. 

“That is what I like about this town, they are here to listen to you,” she added. 

The AAC has laid out specific goals and requirements for 2021 in order to continue the conversation, as well as named future projects in order to be compliant with AODA requirements. 

The committee is also currently looking for new members. You can find out more online here.

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Maddie Johnson

About the Author: Maddie Johnson

Maddie Johnson is an early career journalist working in financial, small business, adventure and lifestyle reporting. She studied Journalism at the University of King's College, and worked in Halifax, Malta and Costa Rica before settling in Collingwood
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