Let’s say I just rolled into Whistler for a weekend on the mountains. I get off the bus in the Village Loop and am drawn to the sights, sounds and smells of night-time Whistler Village… visions of a patio and chicken wings dancing in my head.
I push forward and, bam. My progress, complete with drumstick dreams, disappears in a millisecond as a seemingly insurmountable barrier greets me… a set of giant stairs is between me, my wheelchair and those Whistler Village wings I smell.
In reality, I am able bodied, but this past weekend as I was giving thanks amidst tons of retail tourists gobbling turkey sale deals about the village, I envisioned myself in a wheelchair for half an hour. Throughout my virtual wheelchair tour, I realized Whistler is doing a lot on the ground to overcome barriers, but there are still a few stairs to climb.
One out of every seven Canadians aged 15 and over — an estimated 3.4 million people — reported some level of disability in 2001, according to a Statistics Canada report profiling people whose everyday activities are limited by a physical, psychological or health condition. The type of disability reported most often involved mobility. Just under 2.5 million people aged 15 and over had difficulty walking, climbing stairs, or moving from one room to another. More than 1 million adults reported hearing difficulties and some 600,000 had a problem with their vision. More than half-a-million adults reported limitations that were the result of emotional, psychological or psychiatric conditions.
The language of barrier breaking is simple if you analyze dictionary definitions: “Access: the ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; admittance. Ability: power or capacity to do or act physically, mentally, legally, morally, financially, etc.”
Through Whistler2020 and our social sustainability objective, Whistler has made the shared commitment to reduce and eventually eliminate barriers that undermine people’s ability to meet their needs. Whistler has already made some progress to deconstruct barriers. Some great examples are: accessible signage indicating routes in the village, a barrier free map of Whistler on whistler.ca and a “Whistler Way” advertising campaign highlighting accessibility issues.
The Whistler Accessibility Project Advisory Group (WAPAG), a dedicated group of community volunteers, has been meeting since August 2006 and is in the process of stepping out of the “advisory” role and into the space filled by a bona fide RMOW Committee of Council. Opportunities to apply for a seat on this committee will be advertised later this fall. From WAPAG has come an audit of the village and RMOW parks facilities outlining existing barriers and recommending action.
Whistler has signed on to “Measuring Up” a program designed to assist municipalities and communities in British Columbia assess the degree to which their citizens with disabilities are active participants in community life. Active participation has two dimensions: accessibility and inclusion. Accessibility means recognizing, reducing and removing any physical or structural barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from actually being present in the community. Inclusion adds another critical dimension — the degree to which the contributions of all citizens are welcomed and enabled.