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Steps Need To Be Taken Towards Accessibility

Editorial from The Sarnia Observer

Sir: As a graduate student in the Occupational Therapy program at McMaster University, I am planning to return to my hometown of Sarnia upon completion of my degree.

Following my Easter break last weekend, I felt compelled to write this letter after learning about the challenges regarding the accessibility of Sarnia's public transit system.

As a future health professional, I was extremely disappointed to read comments from city council in response to the Ontario Human Rights Commission ruling regarding announcement of bus stops for passengers with visual impairments.

I was shocked that elected members of our municipal government justified their refusal to comply with this ruling because there have been "no complaints."

This reactive, rather than proactive, collective attitude of council clearly demonstrates a refusal to accommodate individuals with disabilities a form of discrimination and breach of equality rights according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Providing 'stop' announcements would make it easier for individuals with visual impairments to access the transit system as well as improve access for new city residents, visitors and tourists, and current transit users taking a different route in an unfamiliar area.

Furthermore, the concept of universal design has direct application here: facilitating mobility through the removal of barriers in the environment enables individuals with and without disabilities to have equitable access to community resources.

Individuals cannot fully participate in society and contribute to the community if they cannot access their environment.

The City of Sarnia is sending a clear message by refusing to ensure accessibility of the transit system.

This message serves to propel the stigma and stereotype associated with having a disability and, in essence, serves to devalue contributions made by its citizens.

Alternatively, adopting this small change is the first step in creating a city that embraces people of all ages and abilities, making it an attractive place to live and work, regardless of disability status.

There are affordable options that can solve the announcement issue instead of those deemed "too expensive" by council.

For example, rather than retrofitting existing buses with state-of-the-art automated announcement systems, low-cost alternatives are available. Inexpensive digital recorders and speakers could be pre-recorded for stops on each route and simply played by the driver.

New buses could have announcement systems installed at the time of purchase by the manufacturer, to reduce costs.

I encourage city council to take steps to provide a cost-effective method for making the transit system accessible. Let's be proactive in finding a solution that facilitates the mobility and participation of our citizens.

By doing so, Sarnia-Lambton will serve as an example for other communities in Canada and around the world.

Sara Tius

M.Sc. (Occupational Therapy) Candidate

McMaster University

Hamilton Article ID# 965360

Reproduced from http://www.theobserver.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=965360

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