DAWSON CREEK – Ramps, elevators and automatic doors all assist those with mobility issues, but they are lacking in Dawson Creek according to B.C. People First board president David Johnston.
Johnston, of Dawson Creek, approached council on Jan. 20 requesting that the City form an accessibility committee. Above helping all business in Dawson Creek become accessible to those with disabilities, Johnston would also like to see more businesses be open to hiring those with disabilities.
“One of them [businesses] I’m talking about is the library. If people with wheelchairs want to get upstairs they can’t get upstairs, because there is no ramp or elevator to get up there. They want to go into lawyer’s offices, they can’t get upstairs to see a lawyer’s office,” said Johnson.
He suggests that the committee could help educate businesses on why it’s important that they become accessible for people with all abilities, and give them advice on how to go about doing that. Johnston said that offering grants and other incentives, possibly leveraged from the provincial and federal governments, could help encourage local business to become more accessible.
Johnston also raised concerns regarding affordable housing in the city and healthcare coverage. If a committee is formed, he hopes that they will advocate to the province to mitigate these issues.
Many councillors applauded Johnston’s efforts, and Mayor Dale Bumstead arranged to meet with him to further discuss a potential committee.
“I really appreciated David’s presentation today. I really like his passion for trying to help promote awareness for persons with disabilities, and this People First initiative,” said Bumstead.
“I need to spend some time with him understanding what it is [he’s asking for] because if he’s advocating in terms of things like health care issues and things like that, that’s a provincial issue, and certainly not within the bounds, I think, or the accountabilities of the city. If there’s accessibility issues with respect to disability within the city, like our streets, our businesses, our community, then that’s something that I would really want to work with him on,” he added.
The City of Fort St. John has a Mayor’s Advisory Committee that formed in 2007 to work alongside council to bring awareness of accessibility issues within the city. They lobby for issues like accessible public transportation and housing, and try to introduce bylaws that support their cause.
“That is the biggest thing we need to start with, is where it makes a difference, right where the rules start,” said Lori Slater, chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee, in a previous interview with the Northeast News.
In October, quadriplegic MLA Sam Sullivan visited Fort St. John. He said that having an inclusive community is reliant on its supporters.
“I believe that all the bylaws in the world don’t do any good unless you have people who support and speak up for them,” Sullivan said.
Johnston said that he hopes the City will be willing to form a committee, but is prepared to take on the task himself if they are unable to do so.
“I’m only a single person, I don’t have the money to make these businesses accessible, so we would need the partnership of the City and the businesses together,” he said, adding that he hopes to set up a meeting with MLA Mike Bernier in the near future.
“My next step is to try and form it, and to try and get some businesses and some other people to try and join the committee,” Johnston said.
People First was formed in Dawson Creek in 1984. It’s a non-profit organization that is run by self-advocates who work to advocate on the behalf of those with disabilities.