Vince Miele, chair of the Richmond Centre for Disability and long-time advocate for the disabled in the city, is concerned about wheelchair access being eroded.
Photograph by: Alan Campbell , Richmond News
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Forty years ago, energetic 21-year-old Vince Miele’s life changed forever.
While out driving, Miele slid across some black ice, causing his car to spin out of control and flip over.
Miele, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, broke his back, severing his spinal cord. He’s been in a wheelchair ever since.
In those four decades, Miele — now chair of the Richmond Centre for Disability (RCD) — has witnessed a sea of positive change in the attitude toward and treatment of people with disabilities.
Much of that metamorphosis has arrived in the shape of greater access for disabled people, particularly for those in wheelchairs.
But it’s the very recent and steady “erosion of access,” as Miele calls it, which worries the RCD chair the most.
And that’s why this week, of all weeks — National Access Awareness Week runs May 27 to June 2 and the City of Richmond has proclaimed June 2 as Access Awareness Day — Miele wanted to shine the spotlight on things we all see, but miss every single day.
“We’ve fought for decades to get the access. But now that access has slowly eroded and we need to get it back,” said Miele, who believes between 16 and 20 per cent of Richmondites have some form of disability.
“For me, it’s now more about the erosion of the access than anything else. The access is there, thanks to building codes and bylaws nowadays.
“But all it takes is a change of ownership of a building or a parking lot and perhaps the new owner is not aware of the purpose of that access.
“What you will find then is that, whatever it is, has become inaccessible once more.”
To get a realistic sense of just what Miele was talking about, the News took a walk around town with the RCD chair, who Rick Hansen recently described as one of his mentors.
We didn’t need to go far before coming across example after example of the very “erosion of access” that vexes Miele.
Within one square block, almost all in the Ackroyd Road strip mall parking lot off No. 3 Road, Miele had managed to point out dozens of instances where access for people in wheelchairs had been thought of, but had been either poorly maintained or designed.
Disabled parking spots were too narrow; ramps to the sidewalk were cut in front of the parking spot instead of to the side, thus blocking off any access when the motorist pulls in; disabled parking signs taken away and never replaced and parking meters too high up for wheelchair-bound people to read.
“People with disabilities need to bring it up; we need to bring it to the attention of city hall or the owner or whomever,” said Miele.
“An example of this was a recent visit to a Chinese restaurant. I went to the washroom and there was an accessible cubicle, but it had been turned into a storage room of some kind; erosion of access.
“Able-bodied people don’t see it and I don’t expect them to see it. It’s only when you’re disabled that you start to see things.”
The more we moved around the parking lot, the more glaring examples of access erosion we encountered.
Someone with a genuine disabled parking permit was parked in a disabled spot with a ramp. But they were not in a wheelchair and their parking blocked off the ramp access.
“It’s a recurring problem everywhere in the city,” said Miele, who counts himself lucky enough to be a friend of Rick Hansen, who just completed his 25th anniversary of his Man in Motion tour.
Two wide-ramped parking spots in front of the Pricesmart store used to be marked with “disabled parking only” signs.
Now, two empty poles exist, causing people to park there illegally all day, every day, according to a supermarket employee, who remarked that the store has asked the landlord, Dorset Realty, many times in the last two years to fix the signs.
“These are great spots for us because of the proximity to the store and the wide ramps, but it’s another example of that erosion,” said Miele.
Inside the store was a different story.
Miele said he often shops at Pricesmart because of its accessibility and wheelchair-friendliness.
At the checkout, all the pin machines swivel up and all the way down, allowing people in wheelchairs to see the display properly.
“This isn’t the case everywhere. In Safeway, there are only two machines like that,” said Miele.
The washrooms, Miele pointed out, are “visible, with proper signage, nice and big and kept really clean.
“Cleanliness is important as we generally have to touch more surfaces than everyone else to move around in there.”
More blocked-off disabled ramps in the parking lot and on Ackroyd Road were followed by a parked delivery truck encroaching way into a disabled parking spot.
And then something as simple as a parking meter was too high for Miele to what the display read because of the sunshine hitting off it.
“I just gamble I won’t get a ticket. But, of course, I generally do,” he bemoaned.
“When I call to complain and explain, I’m told I won’t be charged out of courtesy, but I don’t want to have to make that call, I’d rather just pay for the parking. I keep asking them to make it accessible.”
As evident as the access erosion has become, even in one square block of the city, Miele still attests that Richmond is way ahead of many others.
“It’s way up there in terms of accessibility,” he said.
“I’ve traveled all over and Europe is way behind on this. But their buildings are hundreds of years old.
“Richmond gets better all the time, but work, as we can see today, still needs to be done.”
To halt and repair the erosion of that access, Miele urged everyone, especially people with a disability, to find their voice.
“Call RCD, talk to the owners or call the city when you see something, that’s the only way we’re going to make it more accessible,” he said.
“Sometimes people don’t realize their facility is not as accessible as they think. People in my position need to speak up about that erosion. If we don’t speak up, who will?”
Read more: http://www.richmond-news.com/Photos+Video+erosion+access/6702103/story.html#ixzz1wRlzDI97