OPINION: Every body should be our priority

When we talk about access in Squamish, you probably think about how close your climbing spot is to the parking lot or the tire chains you might need for that rough logging road. You’re probably not thinking about trying to find a place to park at the doctor’s office.

Squamish is heralded as the outdoor recreational capital of Canada, but we have a blindspot:

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Why is it so hard for able-bodied people to imagine a person with a disability would enjoy the outdoors too?

People with disabilities enjoy the mountains just as much as able-bodied people. Sure, the terrain brings challenges for all of us, but it doesn’t need to be hard — or expensive — to include everybody.

In 1978, advocates successfully campaigned for accessible parking and wheelchair ramps at Alice Lake and Shannon Falls. But more than forty years later, there’s still the assumption that people with disabilities don’t want to go to the park. (The popularity of the Sea to Sky Gondola and its accessibility would prove otherwise.)

While many might hesitate to change the natural landscape (people with disabilities care about the environment too!), we should have no problem with altering our built areas. Yet, in council last week, a motion to ban plastic straws was passed without any mention of how this would affect people with disabilities — many of whom require plastic straws. Everyday access needs for people with disabilities are often overlooked.

Just days after the straw ban passed, Vancouver Coastal Health confirmed two more measles cases — including possible exposure in Squamish. As we report on the vaccination rates available for the schools in our district, one of the main arguments against vaccinating is that it causes autism. Not only has this been disproven (many times!), the real question should be what does that argument really say? Are parents so afraid of their child having a disability they would rather risk death? Why are people so afraid of disability?

In terms of accessible parking in Squamish,  even though the District has bylaws about accessible parking, they don’t apply to parking that was allowed under former bylaws and building codes. It often falls on the people who need the accessible spots to report when someone without a permit is using them. Even then, if bylaw can’t get there in time to fine the person or that parking happens to be at a business, the recommendation is to publicly shame.

All three of these issues — from banning plastic straws, to refusing to vaccinate, to accessible parking — are caused by a lack of understanding of disability. What we need to do is listen to people with disabilities, and include them in our government, healthcare and infrastructure processes.

Look around. If you don’t see people with disabilities in our public spaces, it’s not because they don’t want to be there. Someone is paying the price for our blissful ignorance. They just can’t be there to tell us — because they’re still looking for a place to park.

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