By Cecilia Nasmith
With a long-standing commitment to accessibility, Northumberland County Council took time at its May meeting to declare National AccessAbility Week in Northumberland May 26 to June 1.
Human resources and accessibility coordinator Andrea Nicholson said this has been a Canadian celebration since the mid-1980s, when Paralympian Rick Hanson undertook his Man In Motion world tour.
“It's a week for Canadians to promote inclusion and accessibility in their communities and workplaces, and celebrate progress, and be inspired to break down barriers,” Nicholson said.
“It's more than just removing physical barriers. It's changing attitudes and creating a culture of inclusion where all people can life and work and play in their own communities.”
Nicholson was joined by Northumberland Accessibility Advisory Committee chair Hope Bergeron in describing three initiatives planned for that week.
They will use some of the advertising space the county has in local news media and social-media platforms to offer messages that reinforce the county's commitment to this issue.
They will prepare five thought-provoking videos focusing on ability, rather than disability, and disseminate them throughout the administration.
And they will prepare a series of cartoons that represent real-life situations and issues in a humourous way that nonetheless raises awareness.
Bergeron also informed council of the advisory committee's recent award of the annual Helping Hands certificates – established in 2017 to recognize county staff members who have embraced accessibility and gone above and beyond mere compliance.
There is one individual winner and one team winner for 2019, she said.
Paramedic deputy chief Susan Brown treats everyone with respect and goes out of her way to ensure a climate of inclusion, Bergeron said. She has demonstrated this by actions that range from creating new paperwork procedures to make things easier for a dyslexic staffer to taking time to ensure staffers on modified-work duties (due to things like pregnancy or post-traumatic stress disorder) are feeling both valued and productive.
“Her leadership helps increase dialogue and decrease the stigma associated with disability,” Bergeron said.
The county's website-refresh team – director of communications Kate Campbell, communications officer Shayna Tinson, IT director Tony Paulic and service-desk analyst Devon Silhanek – won the team award for developing a website that is accessible to all users.
“We ask county council to endorse and proclaim National AccessAbility Week in Northumberland County,” Bergeron said.
“We believe this endorsement and proclamation will promote valuable exposure and necessary support, but also reaffirm the county's commitment to creating accessibility in Northumberland County.”
A teachable moment followed the presentation, when Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson shared a pet peeve – seeing a car with a handicapped-parking permit park in one of the designated spaces, followed by the exit of a young and seemingly healthy teenage driver.
It's a complaint they hear often, Nicholson agreed, but she reminded council that not all disabilities are visible.
“Some people do have chronic illnesses that can flare up and make it difficult for a person, even a young person,” she noted.
“That said, we are hearing about some new initiatives we can look at, maxing out awareness about the importance of these spaces being available or people who need them.”