Bigger parking spaces for those with disabilities, higher fines for people who use those spots illegally and sensitivity training for municipal employees are just a few of the ways Charlottetown could get closer to its goal of becoming a barrier-free city for people with disabilities, according to a new report

The recommendations came Wednesday as the city's Civic Board for Persons with Disabilities released its first-ever report and recommendations for council, which came out of public brainstorming session last October attended by about 90 people.

'There are challenges to creating a barrier-free city in a municipality as old as Charlottetown with historic properties.' — Barrier-Free City Forum Report

"No cities exist that are wholly barrier-free. However, this is a concept that many cities around the world are actively working toward," states the report, which can be found on the city's website. 

The recommendations include:

  • Integrate a disability lens into all aspects of City business.
  • Checklist/guidelines for improving the accessibility of events.
  • Communicate with private sector about the benefits of improved accessibility.
  • Keep accessibility at the forefront of discussions with developers.
  • Improve signage on City buildings to promote accessibility options.

"We have to be patient ... money is always a factor," said Helena Reeves, a member of the board that wrote the report.

Ryan Bulger

Ryan Bulger hopes the city will improve sidewalks for people like him. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Reeves has a son with autism and works with adults with autism. The report contains several suggestions to improve the city for those with autism, including quiet, calming rooms in public spaces, soothing paint colours on walls and eliminating fluorescent lighting in favour of LED lights.

"The short-term goals, many of them are going to be quite easy to implement, so there's no reason for them not to be implemented quickly," Reeves said.

"I think it's a very positive thing. I think the city's showing great leadership in trying to develop a framework that's inclusive," said Marcia Carroll, executive director of the PEI Council of People With Disabilities, as Wednesday's news conference at City Hall wrapped up.  

It "will be interesting to monitor" the city's progress meeting its goal of making municipal programs and events more inclusive, Carroll added. 

'Good foundation'

"This report is not the end-all, be-all, but it's an excellent starting point, it's a good foundation," said city councillor Mitchell Tweel, who chaired the Civic Board for Persons with Disabilities.

Before it can take any action, with council must first endorse the report, which Tweel anticipates will happen at its public meeting March 14. It will then go back to a standing committee of council to formulate an action plan. 

Some improvements will likely begin in the next year, Tweel said. 

The report noted the issue of accessibility is becoming more important as the baby boom generation ages. 

It also pointed out that "there are challenges to creating a barrier-free city in a municipality as old as Charlottetown with historic properties and a city design that was not created with accessibility in mind." 

Some other suggestions from the report: plain language and picture-based guides to services in Charlottetown, loop technology and closed-caption screens for public address systems for those who are hearing impaired, and more voice-activated pedestrian crossings.

Ryan Bulger, a member of the civic board who uses a wheelchair, said clear, maintained sidewalks for people like him are high on his wish list, adding online updates of what sidewalks are plowed would be an improvement.

With files from the CBC's Laura Meader.