Victoria is a beautiful city, but not without it's problems for persons with disabilities
October 29th, 2021
BC's capital is in a time of flux, as longtime Victoria mayor Lisa Helps will not be running again. Accessibility advocate Susan Simmons reflects on how persons with disabilities have been treated by the city during mayor Helps' tenure.
What issues did you have with outgoing mayor, Lisa Helps?
Susan: We need a mayor that can bring people together, and I don’t think she’s been effective in that.
But it's not just the mayor; it's the council too. People with disabilities are excluded, not thought of, when the city's planning to do new things or make changes to existing services or amenities.
For example, the council wanted to make Victoria a pedestrian friendly city, but didn't include people with mobility limitations in the plan.
Outgoing Victoria mayor Lisa Helps has been in office for 7 years
And we’ve seen that mindset play out with Beacon Hill Park and Clover Point, where we had to aggressively lobby to have any parking down by water for persons with disabilities who can't walk there on their own.
The city hasn't been seeing us, or hearing us, or engaging us. They also have narrow view of disability – just thinking about it in terms of a wheelchair, instead of a range of abilities and seniors as well.
And if they do engage, they listen but don’t hear. Do they care? It feels like they don’t. I think they see people with disabilities as disposable.
So it's a council-wide issue?
Susan: Councillor Ben Issit created a road to a toilet in the middle of Beacon Hill Park, then suggested that people with disabilities should be happy with that, even when our access to much of the park was blocked. It's really insulting and he has an agenda at odds with accessibility.
It's the same with councillors Dubow and Potts. I do feel Jeff Young is open to hearing, but has other issues that will take precedence.
The council also has a habit of pointing to their disability committee, and the same person in a wheelchair, as if having them on the committee is all they need to do.
The council points to the same person in a wheelchair, as if having them on the committee is all they need to do
Does anyone stand out to you as having the potential to be a good mayor?
Susan: Councillors Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Stephen Andrew are really trying hard on council, but keep hitting a brick wall because of the agendas which other councillors have.
So we have 2 people there, but it's not enough.
What changes do you want to see in the city?
Susan: It's all about universal access.
When you build something or have a service or amenity, people of all ranges of ability and mobility should be able to use it.
They need to start doing this with parks, buildings, roads - everything - but the city isn’t giving support to true universal access. We constantly see telephone polls in middle of sidewalks, inaccessible paths, things like that.
The city must also do a better job educating residents of Victoria about these things so they understand the need and aren’t angry at people with disabilities; unfortunately blame and anger are being directed to people with disabilities for wanting changes.
So I say to everyone in Victoria concerned about accessibility and disability rights: get to know who’s on council or will be running for council, and keep that in mind next time you vote.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to email@example.com!