People with disabilities blocked from enjoying ‘new normal’ vacations – NB Media Co-op

The summer of 2022 saw many Canadians getting out, going on vacation, living life in the so-called ‘new normal.’ Despite appearances, a large group was missing from this equation, namely persons with disabilities. Once you factor in costs, the lack of accessible venues, inaccessible travel, and oh you know, something like a once-in-a-century global pandemic, it is easy to see why many New Brunswick residents with a disability were unable to go on a new normal vacation.

Try going to the beach in a wheelchair or walker. If no Mobi Mat (a mat made specifically to go over sand) is present to allow a wheelchair to cross sand with ease, then you will literally spin your wheels and go nowhere. Even if you made it to the water, without a float chair waiting for you, or just a safe resting spot on the beach, then what is the point? Imagine having grown up close to the beach yet never having been able to access the water without extreme difficulty because you are in a wheelchair? Yet, the solutions are all within grasp!

Let’s set aside the wheelchair: Imagine going to the beach with an autistic child who gets overstimulated. (Trust me I did it for years and it’s not a good time). You’ve no sooner unpacked everything and now you must repack it all and leave. For whatever reason, too many people seem to think that persons with disabilities have no desire, or worse, no reason or right, to visit these vacation and tourist type spots. They’re not sub-human: persons with disabilities want the same “normal” experiences other people do.

Some tourist attractions are trying to make accessibility upgrades, or new attractions are being established which, you’d assume, are designed with accessibility in mind. Nope! Once again, the joke is on us. Take Peggy’s Cove and Area 506 container village as two such projects.

Although Peggy’s Cove has put in wheelchair ramps and some accessible washrooms, nothing was done in conjunction with groups such as Accessibility Canada. Ultimately, the redesign missed the mark. Good intentions alone aren’t enough: we don’t let non-engineers design planes and the same should go for designing accessible spaces.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Photo: Stephen Lester/Unsplash

Broadly speaking, Peggy’s Cove is considered a flop to most seeking accessibility for many reasons, but the primary reason is that they only considered mobility accessibility issues. It’s great that they put in ramps, but mobility is but one part of the total design challenge. It is unacceptable to ignore the multiple accessibility lenses.

Did they put in a vocal system that would describe the view in multiple languages ​​to those who are low-vision or blind? no. Did they put in an easy-to-install hearing loop for the deaf or partial hearing? no. Did they put in a sensory room or area to help neurodiverse people to deal with large crowds and overwhelming situations? no.

There is so much that could have been done, with much of it covered by grants to help bear or negate the costs. This would have made the area accessible to so many more people.

And then there is the Container Village in Saint John. Yet again, it appears that the City of Saint John decided it would simply ignore the Federal Accessibility Building Codes of 2015 accepted as New Brunswick Code in 2020 and not require accessibility in the village or on transit or many of their new builds.

The Container Village opened to rave reviews, until folks in wheelchairs and with walkers dared to visit. They quickly realized they couldn’t enter any of the containers as not any one of them had an accessibility ramp. To boot, there are no rails around the front of the containers, making it extremely dangerous for those with limited or no vision, with limited or no hearing, seniors with a limited range of motion and more. What is most surprising is that the village received funds from the federal government to build, but without required accessibility concerns met.

A woman wearing a blue face mask or fan.
Shelley Petit is the chair of the New Brunswick Coalition of Persons with Disabilities. Photo: Submitted.

Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long has still not answered me as to how this happened. Why was federal funding allowed if the build didn’t meet accessibility requirements? The many groups and voices who raised massive concerns around the systemic ableism this build perpetuated feel limited comfort in the fact that their advocacy resulted in at least mobility accessibility, but anger in the fact that only mobility accessibility was met and only after continuous vocal protests. Why do we have to keep fighting to have our most basic rights with?

Accessible tourism is a huge market that too many in New Brunswick have turned a blind eye to. In the province, 26.7 per cent of the population 15 and over have one or more disabilities. The next largest demographic group are seniors, many of whom have challenges like those with physical disabilities. This does not account for international tourists, many of whom expect a higher standard of accessibility. Three countries who took accessible tourism seriously — England, Ireland and Australia — saw huge returns on investment almost immediately.

To the province’s credit, New Brunswick recently hired an accessibility expert who has been mandated to make all provincial parks accessible, from all lenses of accessibility. Yes, it will take time, primarily because there is so much to do, as so much was ignored over the years.

One can dream that over the next decade we will have accessible parks. Canadians with disabilities will finally have a bit of money with the federal Disability Benefit and cities and venues such as restaurants, hotels and more who refuse to become accessible to all will be left in our dust. It is something for all businesses and city councilors to really consider. Do you want summer dollars from all your visitors, or will winter come for your inaccessible, outmoded attractions only the abled can visit?

Shelley Petit is the Chair of the New Brunswick Coalition of Persons with Disabilities.

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