As the Westlock and District Agricultural Fair got underway Aug. 16, the Westlock Accessibility Coalition was planning a different kind of event in the form of an accessibility challenge where they invited competitors to experience the town from the point of view and in the shoes of a person with disabilities.
Town of Westlock mayor Ralph Leriger was in a wheelchair, and Westlock County reeve Lou Hall was wearing glasses which simulate the vision of a person with cataracts.
The intent was to start a conversation with community stakeholders about what it means to be accessible, what challenges those with disabilities face in their everyday lives, and how those challenges might be counteracted or made easier to deal with.
“I think it went phenomenally well,” said Leriger.
In the same group as the mayor and the reeve was wheelchair user Matt Steinbring, who is a neighbour of Leriger’s.
He crosses Highway 18 by the Peavey Mart mall quite frequently, almost daily.
There is a short, but quite steep hill to get to the crosswalk, which is marked, but there is no easy way to get on or off the sidewalk.
The hill itself is quite a challenge on snowy days, so access to the sidewalk can only be made better by frequent plowing.
This particular group started their challenge by the Pioneer Museum, where they had to cross Highway 18 to get to Peavey Mart. Once there, reeve Hall, wearing the cataract glasses, had to try and purchase something using sign language only.
The bus then took them to R.F. Staples, where principal Wayne Rufiange (also a competitor) spoke about the challenges the high school is facing in terms of mobility for students with disabilities.
“Since I’ve been elected, you come to look at simple infrastructure very differently. When you’re on vacation, you look at something and say ‘Ours is better than that’ or ‘I wish we had that, I wonder how they funded it,’” said Leriger.
He continued on to say the town does a lot for accessibility, and continues to do so — ramp corners on sidewalks, grinding uneven humps in sidewalks, replacing the cracked ones, or even adding sidewalk where it doesn’t exist.
“Some of our agencies have applied for grants and we’ve given matching funding for things like better door access at the Pioneer Museum, or grants for redoing the washrooms at the curling rink.”
Leriger did suggest that better consultation with those like Steinbring might help with prioritizing accessibility projects in the town.