A change would do us all good – Exeter by wheelchair

View from the Strip
By Casey Lessard

This week’s Grand Bend Strip goes to Exeter for part two of a survey to see what barriers people with mobility issues face every day. For readers who did not see the Strip’s survey of Grand Bend and Parkhill, please visit our website, //grandbendstrip.com/ where you can see the material in its entirety.
To perform our survey of Exeter, I hit the streets with Denise Halpenny, who uses a three-wheeled scooter to get around. Admittedly, she doesn’t get around much because she already knows the limits she faces. She looks forward to fewer challenges when she and husband Scott move to Grand Bend this summer.
The most pressing issue in Exeter is the state of the sidewalks, especially the curbs at major intersections on Main Street. There were several times I thought her scooter was going to flip her into the road because of the condition of the curbs at James Street and Sanders Street, which are best described as dangerous for someone using such a device. The municipality needs to address this issue immediately.
The powers that be should also consider the fact that they scored fairly poorly on this survey because it is very difficult for someone using a wheelchair to get in the doors of The Olde Town Hall. Unlike the library, which shares the same building but with a different entrance, the town office lacks the option to press a button to open the door to their administration staff. There are other limits at town hall, too. For example, as it stands, anyone using a wheelchair can not sit behind the mayor’s desk in council chambers because it is on an elevated platform, and the tables for all councilors are too low for someone using a motorized wheelchair to sit behind. Want to sit in the bleachers? Impossible. Wheelchair users must sit in front of them.
In contrast, the library is a beacon for wheelchair users, complete with tables that rise and lower to accommodate wheelchair users. I know it took some encouragement from Maxine Hyde and her son Allan, but it’s a facility they can be proud of. Why did the municipality skimp on services some find critical for access?
“I want to have some amount of dignity when I’m out there,” Denise says when reflecting on her excursions downtown. “I want people to understand I was like them at one time. I want to feel like that, too. I don’t want to feel like, Oh, here comes that lady in the wheelchair.”
Denise was only able to perform four hours of the survey – which took about 12 to complete – before the rain started and the battery on her scooter lost power, stranding us in the middle of the road in front of the post office. Luckily, the traffic wasn’t too heavy at the time, but it was a reminder to me about the challenges people using such devices face regularly. I can only imagine what would have happened if she had run out of power while traveling alone.
I expected to get a lot of flak for publishing the results of the Grand Bend and Parkhill surveys, and I am sure there are people out there silently upset with me. But my intention was to bring this issue to light for the people who are marginalized because of their physical condition. We’re all getting older, and the odds that each of us will face mobility issues, or live with someone who does, increase daily.
I invite you to look at your store or the stores you frequent and ask, could I get in here – without help – if I were using a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair? Can’t get perspective yourself? Invite someone you know who uses such devices to assess your building to see if they can independently access it. What are the barriers to access? Find out and work to improve. Denise Halpenny and the many others who face such barriers daily will appreciate your efforts.