Ronald Zajac, The Recorder and Times

By Ronald Zajac, Recorder and Times

Keep changing attitudes – and keep improving services.

That two-pronged message emerged from the myriad of responses at People First Brockville’s community forum on inclusiveness Monday.

The non-profit organization hosted the forum at the Brockville Convention Centre to gauge what the community needs to do to become more inclusive of people with disabilities.

The crowd at the earlier of two sessions generally said Brockville has the right mix of small-town generosity and a welcoming attitude, as well as good services for the disabled. However, participants felt the community can do better.

“If people could remember what it feels like to not be included … it would make inclusiveness, involving everybody, so much easier,” said participant Kimberley Wright.

Organizers hope to use the input as the basis for future workshops. Lynda Kahn, who helped facilitate the event with her husband Jack Pearpoint, said these kinds of “intentional conversations” often do lead to political action.

Along with people living with disabilities and their caregivers and support workers, participants also included Mayor David Henderson, members of local emergency services and representatives of many social agencies.  Among the questions the facilitators put forward, respondents were asked to list what the community should keep to ensure a better future, and what it can do better.

Community spirit, volunteerism and the local sense of “connectedness” figured prominently among the attributes to keep.

As for what can be done better, responses often entered the realm of government services, with social housing, accessibility of buildings and transportation among recurring responses.

Henderson was pleased to see such services also included on the list of existing positive attributes. He credited the work of the Brockville Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee (BMAAC). That citizens’ group takes the municipal dollars available for accessibility and chooses how to spend them.

“It’s an arm’s-length way of doing it, and it seems to be doing pretty well,” said the mayor.

Still, BMAAC member Mary Ann Greenwood, whose disabled son was among the participants, said transportation is one area where the city should do better. She pointed to changes in the para transit system earlier this decade.

“It used to be, you could plan within 24 hours, you’d get a ride,” said Greenwood. “Now, you’re lucky to get a bus if you’re two weeks in advance.”

People First of Brockville vice-president David Fellows, who requires a wheelchair, said some members in the community still need to get past physical appearances when dealing with people who have disabilities.

“They just see people in wheelchairs and don’t see me for who I am,” he said.

In sorting out respondents’ messages, Pearpoint singled out one of Brockville’s strong attributes.

“There’s a strong voluntary commitment deep in the heart of this community,” he said. “With that kind of voluntary base, you can build … a sense of inclusion that welcomes people.”

Event coordinator Joe Boisvenue said the evening session had a slightly lower turnout, with “the same type of ideas, different information.”

“We’ve got something to build on,” added Boisvenue.

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