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Many Sudburians face daily challenges due to physical, mental disabilities

By Kashka Kril-Atkins

 

Around our wedding anniversary each year, my husband and I treat ourselves to a few days at the Stratford Festival. We so look forward to this annual tradition, I’m convinced it’s part of the glue that holds us together.

This season’s production of Othello would have been mesmerizing enough, just contemplating how the actors remember all those Shakespearean lines, but there was an added twist. This particular performance was enhanced with American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation, sponsored by TD.

The Stratford Festival offers a number of ASL performances where hearing impaired patrons can book designated seats selected for best viewing of the stage, performers and the ASL interpreters. Brilliant!

I couldn’t help but turn my attention to the two ASL interpreters, discretely dressed in black and positioned stage left. How could anyone possibly “real-time” interpret a Shakespearean play with ASL? It was truly inspiring to witness the skill of these two people.

I’m certain they brought joy to the patrons who, without ASL interpretation, would have difficulty enjoying great theatre.

There is a line Desdemona’s father Brabantio utters when refusing words of consolation (over Desdemona’s deception in marrying Othello) that are particularly poignant in light of the ASL interpretation: “I never yet did hear, that the bruis’d heart was pierced through the ear.”

A surprising number of Canadians face daily challenges due to physical and mental disabilities.

The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, released in November 2018, estimated one in five Canadians aged 15+ are living with at least one life-altering disability. That’s more than six million Canadians.

The top four concerns reported were pain, mobility, flexibility and mental health-related.  Almost 1.6 million Canadians with disabilities reported they were unable to afford the aids, devices and medications recommended to them to improve quality of life. Let’s reflect on that for a moment.

On June 21, 2019, the federal government passed the new Accessible Canada Act, which acknowledges every Canadian deserves the opportunity to participate fully in their community and workplace, and to have an equal chance at success.

The Accessible Canada Act applies to Parliament, Crown corporations, the federal government and private sector businesses under federal jurisdiction, such as banking, telecommunications and transportation.

Time will tell if the Accessible Canada Act will succeed in its primary goal of fostering an inclusive, barrier-free society for those Canadians challenged with disabilities.

The City of Greater Sudbury has developed a multi-year (2017-2021) Accessibility Plan of its own. The plan cites unique challenges faced by the city given it is geographically the largest municipality in Ontario and the second largest in Canada with a low population density relative to its size.

It’s worth noting that to date, the City of Greater Sudbury reports to have met or exceeded the statutory requirements and compliance deadlines mandated by Ontario accessibility legislation.

The Bell Park Waterfront Accessibility Project is praised as transformational with accessible washrooms and change rooms as well as two beach wheelchairs. The “mobi-chairs” are floating wheelchairs that can travel across sand and allow users to float in the water. Chairs can be reserved in advance by phone for one-and-half-hour time blocks.

Inclusive play is a key focus and six playgrounds were recipients of Enabling Accessibility Fund Grants for accessibility improvements to facilitate inclusion: Kin Park Accessible Playground, Ridgecrest Accessible Outdoor Rink, Ridgecrest Accessible Playground, Ridgecrest Accessible Splash Pad, Robinson Playground Accessible Field House and Theresa Playground Accessible Playground.

The city’s new website considered accessibility in many aspects of the site re-design such as the addition of a “font size” button for ease of browsing and TTY telephone contact information listed on every page. Technological and design improvements were made to enable users with screen readers and other adaptive assistive technologies to more easily navigate the website. Plans are also underway related to improving specialized transit services as well as building more accessible and affordable housing.

Beyond changes to government policy, we all need to raise our awareness around the challenges faced by fellow Sudburians living with disabilities.

Winter weather and festivities create additional hurdles. Only a handful of local restaurants are truly accessible with stair-free entrances and washrooms that have been designed to factor in the needs of those patrons with unique challenges.

I called several Sudbury hotels to inquire about accessible rooms. The reception staff for the most part were polite but murky around the specific features of accessible rooms. Hotels with 100+ rooms most often only have one to three rooms designated as accessible and those rooms are often inadequately adapted. It’s an incredible challenge to get around in the snow and ice. Disabled permit parking spots are in short supply and sadly sometimes misused by those without permits or need.  Let’s be thoughtful this winter. A little kindness and empathy goes a very long way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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