Tourism association kick-starts new campaign to boost accessibility in Thompson-Okanagan region
Paralympian curler Sonja Gaudet leads calls for full inclusion for travellers of different abilities
The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) has launched a new campaign to promote full inclusion and accessibility in all aspects of travel experiences in the region.
The Accessibility in a New Light project is being conducted in partnership with AccessBC and Spinal Cord Injury B.C., with the purpose of allowing equal opportunity for people with different capabilities to enjoy the products and services offered in the region in the province's Interior.
Sonja Gaudet, a three-time Canadian Paralympic gold medallist wheelchair curler, is TOTA's regional accessibility specialist and one of the voices in the campaign video.
Gaudet, a wheelchair user for 23 years, said many recreational facilities in the Thompson-Okanagan region are still not very user-friendly for people with disabilities.
"I've been kayaking for many years and it just got too frustrating having to haul my kayak and expecting my husband to come along with me every time," she told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.
Gaudet has been working with the Vernon Paddling Centre to launch an adaptive kayak boarding program.
"That group of individuals was really open into creating a fully integrated club... We've got a club here in Vernon that is open to full inclusion," she said.
Full inclusion starts with small steps
Operators may be intimidated by the amount of work needed to make their facilities free of barriers to everyone, but Gaudet said operators don't need to be perfect to begin with.
"Ultimately, that's the long-term goal, that we want to create those spaces that are super user-friendly. But we can often just start with small steps adapting a space," she said.
"If you just make those small steps, you're already creating that welcoming atmosphere."
Gaudet said as a long-time wheelchair user who has travelled to many places around the world, she knows the key areas that make a building inclusive: the parking lot, the entrance and the washroom.
"If we really break it down to some of those three basic steps, and plus just the open mindset and positive attitude of including everyone, we're well on our way," she said.
With files from Daybreak South