JAMES CULIC/Niagara This Week
The Niagara Parks Commission has unveiled an Accessibility Plan that identifies and addresses barriers to information, communication, employment and transportation for people with disabilities.
The first phase of the legislated requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) comes into effect in 2015, and the NPC said they are well ahead of schedule to meet them.
“The plan shown here today deals with how Niagara Parks is implementing provisions of (AODA) to break down barriers,” said NPC Chairwoman Janice Thomson. “But here at the NPC, we don’t do it because it’s been legislated, we do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
“We’re working to ensure our operations are as inclusive as possible so that everyone who visits Niagara Parks has an experience that is second to none,” she added.
Tony Baldinelli, NPC’s communications director, highlighted the difference between the NPC’s old inclined rail lift and the new welcome centre at Old Fort Erie as an example of how far the company has come.
The incline lift was built in 1966 without a single thought given to accessibility, while the new building at the Old Fort is fully accessible and kitted out with a set of future-proof amenities.
He explained that an accessible wheelchair lift that goes to the basement was installed at the Old Fort, even though it’s unlikely to get used because there are currently no employees with a disability working there. But by installing the lift now, the building is accessible if the NPC does hire an employee with a disability to work there, and, the building meets the stricter set of requirements which come into effect in 2021 during the second phase of AODA.
According to Baldinelli, the NPC’s aging rail lift will be renovated, fully accessible and re-opened by March 2013.
Having already met most of the requirements for 2015, Baldinelli said the NPC is immediately beginning work towards the 2021 requirements, rather than waiting until closer to the deadline.
He also touched on some of the other ways the NPC is working to be more accessible, such as the 350-degree accessible golf cart at Legends on Niagara, and the NPC’s communication releases which are available in braille, accessible-PDF, and MP3 audio formats. The NPC now also has a staffer on hand who is fluent in American sign language to assist visitors to Niagara Parks locations.
Fort Erie’s accessibility consultant, Bev Bradnam, said the town has been threatened with a human rights complaint by a passenger who uses the accessible transit system.
The issue is a safety matter, and concerns the town’s policy of requiring those who use a mobility scooter to transfer to a secured seat while on the bus.
The NPC’s accessibility consultant, Donna Herrington, said while they do encourage riders to transfer from mobility scooters, the new buses are equipped without enough fastening tools to safely secure almost any scooter in place during travel.
“It’s all about creating the greatest dignity possible,” said Herrington. “Some people may not be comfortable with the drivers reaching across their bodies or moving them.”
To check out the NPC’s full plan in a variety of accessible formats, visit www.niagaraparks.com/accessibility.