© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Zubair Siddiqi, general manager of the Delta Prince Edward Hotel and Convention Centre, was one of 14 people in the province on Thursday who took part in the fourth annual Chair-Leaders event.
Zubair Siddiqi says spending the day in a wheelchair was humbling and quite an eye-opener.
The general manager of the Delta Prince Edward Hotel and Convention Centre was one of 14 people in the province on Thursday who took part in the fourth annual Chair-Leaders event.
The so-called Chair-Leaders, consisting largely of MLAs and business people, spent their day tackling some of the barriers faced by persons with mobility disabilities, including public access to buildings, dining, transportation and restroom facilities.
Siddiqi started his day at 8 a.m. Thursday, wheeling from his office on the second floor of the hotel down to the lobby and restaurant, where he greets guests before getting down to other business.
He immediately noticed that some of the guests felt awkward around him.
“As I came out of the elevator, they wanted to help me and then there were some odd moments, some awkward moments when you make eye contact (with them) but that someone doesn’t want to look you in the eye,’’ Siddiqi said.
“I don’t think it was because they were being disrespectful, I think it’s because they didn’t know (how to act) and how to help me or they probably wanted to respect my privacy so that I have my own independence.’’
He then wheeled into the new convention centre where he found the going very challenging. While the lobby has a tiled floor that makes it easy to glide on the convention centre is completely carpeted.
“It absolutely takes a toll on you,’’ he said. “I can already feel (the strain) in my arms and back.’’
He also found going to the bathroom quite a task, even though the hotel’s public washrooms are wheelchair-accessible.
“I wasn’t able to manage or manoeuvre like opening the door and closing it or going to open it again so that (was a learning) opportunity for us.’’
This is the second time Siddiqi has participated in Chair-Leaders. Since doing it last year, the hotel has converted four of its guest rooms into fully wheelchair-accessible rooms where things like light switches and the card reader to open the door are low enough for people in wheelchairs to reach them.
Paul Cudmore, executive director of the P.E.I. division of the Canadian Paraplegic Association, said Chair-Leaders is a surprise to many people.
“It’s an eye-opener . . . to see exactly what it’s like even for just one day to have a physical disability and have to use a wheelchair to try and get around our community,’’ Cudmore said. “It could even be in the way people look at you and perceive you.’’
Cudmore would like to expand the event to include university, college, junior high and high schools and have teachers and principals take part.
Cudmore said progress is being made.
“All of our provincial and municipal buildings are becoming more accessible. They have been changes to bathrooms and hockey arenas and door openers put in. (However) there is no national building code for the private sector to make their establishments accessible. That’s usually left up to goodwill.’’
A couple of years ago, Cudmore said he hoped someday to see a wheelchair-accessible taxi in Charlottetown. He’s happy to report that at least one taxi service in the capital city plans on having something in place for June.
“Slowly but surely, it’s coming,’’ Cudmore said.
Here are the people who took part Thursday in the Chair-Leaders event in P.E.I.:
Charlottetown MP Sean Casey
MLAs Wes Sheridan, Valerie Docherty, Robert Mitchell, Pat Murphy
David Arsenault, deputy minister of finance
Jeremy Doyle, assistant to independent MLA Olive Crane
Cathy Rose, accessibility services co-ordinator at UPEI
Zubair Siddiqi, general manager of the Delta Prince Edward
Stephanie Knickle-Currie, owner of imotion fitness
Spencer Russell, research manager of Novartis Animal Health
Bruce Donaldson, branch manager with TD Canada Trust
Mary-Lynn Muttart, manager of the Stratford Esso
John Morris, owner of Morris Code/board member with the Spinal Cord Injury-P.E.I.