Who is listening to the disabled?

By Deborah O’Connor

Just a couple of short months ago an issue arose in downtown Cobourg that saw clashes between the town’s efforts to beautify the streetscape and the need for visually-impaired residents and visitors to navigate King Street in safety. The incident underlines the extreme difficulty the disabled community often faces in trying to get their point across to the people who plan and implement community features. While they may have the opportunity to provide input, is anybody listening and willing to make the needed accommodations?

If the experience of former Town of Cobourg Accessibility Advisory Committee Chairperson Cheryl Blodgett is any indication, the answer is no. She and fellow committee member Linda Minor tried to tell the town that their hanging flower baskets were installed too low, causing them and others to frequently walk right into a face full of greenery on their strolls along King Street. Ms. Blodgett recounted that she tried for three years to draw attention to this and said every year the baskets were hung lower, the exact opposite of the remedy required. Last year, on a day she walked into the foliage seven different times, she’d had enough and resigned. This past summer a story in Northumberland Today featured their issue and shortly after that Councillor Miriam Mutton, a landscape architect by trade, promised the Accessibility Advisory Committee would find a solution, suggesting that moving the street furniture around might be the answer. It’s a design issue, she said.

This story is typical of the kind of problems faced every day by people with physical disability challenges. A similar situation exists with the Wheels transportation system in Cobourg, where Jerry Ford, in a presentation to town council in August, complained that while some aspects of the system were excellent, some were less so, and his efforts to get his point across to town officials were going nowhere. At the conclusion of his presentation he was invited to attend the public meeting about transportation issues, where he could make his points yet again. No promise to fix the problem though.

There seems to be a huge gap between the ability to articulate a problem and the ability to get the problem fixed. Good, practical suggestions are made and ignored while promises of further study trump real action. To those affected, it must seem like their concerns are being trivialized by the powers that be, and there’s that subtle, unspoken suggestion that they should quit whining and be grateful for what they’ve got. After all, what’s the occasional slap in the face from dangling, often wet plant life? It’s not like it hurts. And what’s the big deal if you can’t book a ride on Wheels because the scheduler hasn’t deleted cancelled rides? You can always take your trip next week instead.

Our citizens deserve better. In both situations there is a simple solution on the table. No studies, no further consideration is required to find the remedies. They are available, here and now, and won’t even cost much. Just do it, and do it now. A little respect would go a long way, and the amount of goodwill the Town can generate by taking quick action is immeasurable. Do it.