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Town taking look at handicap access

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The town is looking into handicapped access in the downtown area after a study done by the Northern Action Group showed only 21 percent of buildings here are accessible to those in wheelchairs.

Of the 137 buildings, which included government, commercial, retail, and legal offices, only 29 were fully accessible, NAG public relations officer Allan Bedard told council Monday night.

The other 108 were not fully accessible throughout the building, with access restricted by narrow doors and aisles, cement steps, heavy doors, and inaccessible tills.

Dubbed “Project Accessibility,” eight people (four in wheelchairs and four attendants) took to the streets last Aug. 26 to find out which buildings could accommodate someone confined to a wheelchair.

They also looked to see possible hazards or barriers that might impede travel.

Concerns included:

•the slant on the sidewalks in the downtown core was too steep;

•ice buildup on the sidewalks in winter, as well as the plowing of snow against the sidewalks; and

•handicapped parking spaces are difficult for wheelchair users.

These barriers all worked to prevent those with disabilities from getting jobs, Bedard argued.

“In short, it is the setting, not the job, that is the barrier,” he told council, adding the barriers brought with them a huge economic, social, and moral price tag.

Now NAG is calling on council to do something to change this. It’s asking the town to create a new board to identify and work to pull down all barriers.

The board also would educate citizens, employers, and local stakeholders in hopes of creating a barrier-free community over time.

Disabled taxpayers would have 70 percent representation on the board, along with two council members and a local advocate for disabled individuals.

The issue was referred to each of the town’s four executive committees for recommendation to the committee of the whole.

Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said he hoped council would have an answer back within the next month.

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