Nova Scotia

Yarmouth develops plan to make town accessible for people with disabilities

The Town of Yarmouth, N.S., has released a plan that officials hope provides a road map to make the town fully accessible for people with disabilities.

'Doing the assessment really opens your eyes up to how you could do a better job,' says Coun. Gil Dares

The goal of Yarmouth's accessibility action plan 'was to identify all barriers that make it difficult to access Town of Yarmouth services, information, employment, public buildings and spaces, and transportation.' (Richard Cuthbertson/CBC)

The Town of Yarmouth, N.S., has released a plan that officials hope provides a road map to make the town fully accessible for people with disabilities.

Town council approved the accessibility action plan at a meeting on March 24. The plan stems from a provincial government requirement that public-sector bodies develop strategies by this spring to help Nova Scotia become accessible by 2030.

Stephen Nicoll, a citizen who chairs the town's accessibility advisory committee, said the plan is wide ranging in its scope, and is not just looking to make sure that buildings have wheelchair ramps.

"We'll be forced to look at, OK, does this building have a plan for people that are hearing impaired or visually impaired to say, 'Hey, there's a fire. These systems are in place to help you in the event that that happens,'" Nicoll said as an example.

Nicoll, who has hearing and breathing disabilities, works in a group home and said he's worked with people with disabilities for 20 years.

Stephen Nicoll is the chair of Yarmouth's accessibility advisory committee. He says the committee wants to hear from people about their thoughts on the plan. (Submitted by Stephen Nicoll)

The plan says its goal "was to identify all barriers that make it difficult to access Town of Yarmouth services, information, employment, public buildings and spaces, and transportation."

Nicoll said the committee wants to get feedback from people over where the plan needs improvement.

"Talk to us because we're very open," he said. "We want to hear from you. We want to hear your struggles in your situations."

The 25-page plan notes Nova Scotia is the province with the highest rate of people with disabilities in Canada: 30 per cent. Statistics Canada data from 2017 says more than 100,000 Nova Scotians have a mobility-based disability, which trailed only pain and flexibility, respectively, as the most prevalent type of disability.

"Doing the assessment really opens your eyes up to how you could do a better job," said Coun. Gil Dares, one of the elected officials who sat on the accessibility advisory committee.

He noted that Frost Park, which is located next to town hall, can only be accessed from Main Street via stairs, which is not an option for people who use a wheelchair.

Coun. Gil Dares says the plan will help make life easier for people with disabilities in Yarmouth. (Gil Dares/Facebook)

Prior to serving on town council, Dares ran the local rink, the Mariners Centre, for 10 years. That experience opened his eyes to what people with disabilities faced.

At one point, a barrier-free washroom was installed as part of an extension added to the building, but someone pointed out a problem to Dares: the stalls inside the washroom were not suitable for wheelchair users.

"You think you're doing the right thing by building a barrier-free washroom, but then you don't include the stall to go with it, so $63,000 later we had it repaired and brought up to standards," he said.

Dares is proud of the plan the town has developed.

"We're already feeling, I guess, some sense of satisfaction that we're going to make life a little easier for people, make life better for them," he said. "And that's our main goal."

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