With the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program growing in leaps and bounds, and a growing interest in the village as a host city for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, the resort is officially on the radar for disabled athletes and tourists.
Helping those athletes and tourists make the most of their visit is the focus of a new website, www.whistlerforthedisabled.com. The website provides would be visitors and people in Whistler with information on village and mountain access, as well as transportation options to and from the resort. Also, it provides a detailed overview of accessibility at hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, stores and other attractions, including specific information for specific disabilities.
Visitors to the site can also shop for groceries and fill prescriptions online, and obtain medical care, dental care and physiotherapy.
Other features include information on where to find the disabled parking spot nearest to attractions, and movie and entertainment listings.
The site was designed by Huey Tollett, who is hearing impaired. According to the press release announcing the website,
"It’s a very unique website for the disabled and a first for a resort community in North America to have a website totally focused on their needs and services. Whistler for the Disabled focuses in on all types of disabilities and the access information needed by each group," he wrote.
"We will be targeting all the major Disabled Groups to show that Whistler is a friendly place for them to come visit no matter their disability. With the Paralympics just a few years away the website is a much-needed information portal for people with disabilities coming to visit Whistler to access information."
Tollett says he came up with the idea based on his own experiences. He started to lose hearing in 2003 and became totally deaf in 2004. At the time he was living full time in Whistler, and found it difficult to lead his normal life.
"I found it really difficult to do the things I used to do," he said. "There was no information on where to find things or get help that were specific to your disability. I had to get my friends to make phone calls for me if I was in the village because there were no TTY pay phones (for deaf communication.)
"Luckily I knew Whistler like the back of my hand so it was not that bad but I could only imagine a disabled tourist coming here and not knowing where things were or how to access them on their own."
Tollett spent a year doing research for his website, consulting with other disabled residents, and he expects to double it in the next little while by adding a newsletter and tour operator guide.
For example, the Accommodation section lists hotels that are disabled friendly, with details on features – such as whether roll-in showers are available, the number of hand rails in bathtubs, close captioning for televisions, braille phones, acceptance of seeing eye and helper dogs, alert systems, and whether pool and hot tub areas are wheelchair accessible. Tollett hopes to write more about tour options, assessing the mobility and level of communication needed for different activities.
Tollett says he is disappointed with the decision not to build a Paralympic sledge hockey arena in the village, but says it only reinforces the need for his website.
"I think now more than ever we need to start marketing to the disabled and showing them that Whistler is disabled friendly, and that this was only a financial decision," he said. "There is a lot of work to do to achieve that goal. The Whistler for the Disabled website will just be a start in that area.
"I am hoping that some of the $4 to $5 million the RMOW will receive in default payments will go into infrastructure for disabled access in Whistler, transportation for the disabled, and into programs like WASP (Whistler Adaptive Sports Program)."