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Chet Greason photo

Chet Greason photo

Local accessibility advisory committee member Roger Koert shows off a sample wooden ramp that he is suggesting would help alleviate some of the accessibility issues in the downtown core.

Small hurdle a big obstacle for downtown

Chet Greason cgreason@stratfordgazette.com

There are 32 businesses in Stratford’s downtown with barricades that make them inaccessible to members of the public.

The barricade? A single step; essentially denying entrance to anyone in a wheelchair.

However, the Community Ramp Project hopes to alleviate this problem, handing out sturdy wooden ramps to businesses in order to correct what Roger Koert of the accessibility advisory committee calls “a huge design issue.”

Koert presented his case to the protection to persons and property subcommittee on April 16.

He explained how even a single step can stop all but the most fit of those in wheelchairs from entering a building. To overcome the step, wheelchair-bound patrons would need to be carried or otherwise physically assisted into the store, an option a lot forego, said Koert, opting instead to stay outside.

Koert’s ramps are an attempt to partially alleviate the problem. Made of wood and customized to fit each step up to eight inches tall, the colourful ramps would be painted with a non-slip coating and would be free to businesses.

Signs would be placed in the store’s front window telling customers the ramps are available upon request. Koert clarified they’re not to be kept out all day, and employees would likely have to fetch them should someone ask.

“They’re also ideal for parents with strollers and couriers with dollies,” he added.

Additionally, the ramps put single-stepped businesses in line with upcoming disabilities act legislation. The project is part of a larger national movement entitled StopGap, which seeks to improve accessibility worldwide.

“We’re helping to create a world where every person can access every space,” Koert said.

The woodworking classes at St. Michael Catholic secondary school have already offered to construct the ramps. Koert’s organization is planning to canvas for volunteers and donations, but first they need the behest of council.

However, city clerk Joan Thomson suggested to the subcommittee that staff should first look into the issue, as some sidewalks in the downtown core are narrow and may not accommodate a ramp. The subcommittee agreed, and referred the issue.

Which begs the question: why even bother with the ramps? If temporary ramps impede passing pedestrians and would still require patrons to ask for assistance from staff, why not simply file the troublesome steps down to an easy slant, doing away with the need for a ramp altogether?

When asked this in an interview following his presentation, Koert smiled knowingly.

“For sure,” he said. “The ramps are a Band-Aid solution.”

Koert thinks the brightly coloured ramps will stimulate conversation about accessibility; calling attention to how something as simple as a single step, a non-issue to a lot of people, can completely deny access to others.

Unfortunately, filing down steps is not as simple as it sounds. Altering store fronts to such a degree would be made more difficult by heritage district legislation, which covers all businesses in the downtown core. Likewise, having the city raise the sidewalks to meet the lip of steps could prove to be a costly undertaking.

But something has to be done.

“The ramps aren’t a perfect solution,” Koert said. “But at least people will be able to get in the door.”

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