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Accessibility Vigil today aims to prevent similar situations from happening again
Brenda Lush just wanted to get home to her children.
It was late in the evening in March, and the Avalon Mall was closing.
She waited for an accessible Metrobus, but none showed up. She tried for an hour to call a cab that could accommodate her, with no luck.
Lush has spina bifida and lymphedema, and uses a wheelchair.
She made a fateful decision — one that affects her to this day.
She decided to try to get home using her wheelchair, and was hit by a car.
“If the sidewalks were clear … maybe I wouldn’t have had my accident because I would have been able to ride on the sidewalk,” she told The Telegram.
“It traumatized me mentally. It made me afraid to go out — especially in the nighttime. And I suffer chronically, painfully. I have injuries that I have to deal with forever now, and pain that I have to live with forever.”
Lush said the accident left her with chronic pain in her back, neck and shoulders.
Tomorrow is International Day for People with Disabilities 2020. ✊ Join us to shine a light on the Accessibility...Posted by Social Justice Co-op NL on Wednesday, December 2, 2020
City Hall gathering
It’s for people like Lush that an accessibility vigil is being held today— International Day of People with Disabilities — from 4:30-5:30 p.m. outside St. John’s City Hall.
“It is to bear witness both to people who will have to endure this winter either isolated in their homes or risking their lives when they go out, and it is in memory of the people who have been killed or injured because there are no (cleared) sidewalks,” said one of the vigil’s organizers, Elizabeth Yeoman.
Co-organizer Anne Malone has a significant visual impairment and uses a guide dog.
She said she faces isolation in the winter months.
“It has generated a lot of anxiety in my life,” Malone said, adding inaccessible sidewalks and inadequate public transit cause her to stay home, or take expensive taxis.
“I’m very active in the arts community, and I try to engage politically and otherwise, and I find that I have to put everything on pause for extended periods every year.
“And I feel that not only am I being robbed, and others who are in my position (are being robbed), but the community is being robbed of the contributions that we can and want to make.”
Malone said being housebound during the winter is essentially half a person’s life.
“That’s a high price to pay just for the absence of an accessible sidewalk. It’s a very, very basic municipal service.
“It’s not a neutral situation — it causes harm by way of the impacts on mental health, and on the inability to access the same amenities and opportunities that any other person has the ability to access.
“We, as people with disabilities, actually have rights to equal access, and those rights are not being acknowledged or accommodated.”
December 3 marks International Day of People With Disabilities, and for 2020’s virtual celebrations, the theme ‘Not all...Posted by International Day of People with Disabilities on Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Crisis in the city
The vigil will call on the City of St. John’s to do three things:
• Clear sidewalks with the same priority as adjoining streets.
• Do not cut back on Metrobus service in 2021 in order to help balance the budget.
• Use a universal design approach in all developments, including the Kelly’s Brook shared-use path, by consulting universal design experts and community members with diverse lived experiences and accessibility concerns.
Non-profit group Social Justice Co-op NL is hosting the vigil and livestreaming it on the group’s Facebook page.
In the group’s event page for the vigil, the Co-op said St. John’s faces an accessibility crisis.
Earlier this year, city council voted not to increase spending on sidewalk snowclearing, and to defer the conversation to budget talks.
Much of the conversation around the budget so far has involved ways to cut back on city expenses, such as by scaling back Metrobus service in 2021.
Yeoman said anyone who is concerned about this should attend the vigil, write to city council or write to the provincial departments of Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities, and Transportation and Infrastructure.
Lush said her greatest worry right now is having another accident.
“Next time I may not be so lucky.”
Juanita Mercer reports on municipal issues in St. John’s.