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White Rock approves pier accessibility report

Advocate terms council questions ‘disappointing’

Accessibility advocate Susan Bains says she has been disappointed by the response of some White Rock council members to a campaign to make the pier more accessible.

The Equal Access Collective’s campaign to have an accessibility mat installed on the pier – to make it safer for those with mobility challenges – came up again at council’s Feb. 12 meeting.

Council ultimately approved a motion from Coun. Ernie Klassen directing city staff to provide a comprehensive report on feasibility, costs and maintenance requirements for such a mat, including funding options, to be submitted to the city’s Accessibility Committee – of which he is a member – for comments.

But while this was passed unanimously, Bains said she felt some of the discussion and questions that arose prior to the vote were “disappointing and rather insulting” – particularly in light of a presentation she gave to council on Jan. 29.

In that meeting, the White Rock resident noted, she was accompanied by many supportive of the collective’s proposal, and submitted some 16 letters in favour of it from local and national organizations and local politicians.

READ ALSO: Make White Rock pier more accessible: advocates

Bains said she took particular exception to a question from Coun. Bill Lawrence to engineering and municipal operations director Jim Gordon.

“With regards to our pier, at the moment, have we had any issues with it being inaccessible, in the past, other than when we had that storm that broke it in two?” Lawrence asked.

“Is there a scenario where we would call it inaccessible?”

“That’s difficult for me to answer,” Gordon replied. “We certainly have not had any official notice it’s inaccessible, but individual people may have found that it’s inaccessible.”

Bains said she found it difficult to see the point to Lawrence’s question.

“Is it not official, when (Coun. Lawrence) was sitting there on Jan. 29 and saw all the people in the room and all the letters of support that were submitted?” she asked.

Klassen, too, was quick to respond to Lawrence at the meeting.

“I think we had about 30 people here representing the community of people with disabilities who brought forward the fact that the pier is not accessible,” he said.

Contacted by Peace Arch News Feb. 16, Lawrence said he now feels the main problem with getting people with disabilities – or even able-bodied people – to the pier is the waterfront BNSF rail line.

“From what I sense, the most difficult portion of wheeling a wheelchair or even a stroller to the pier is going across the tracks,” he said. “And we can’t do anything with the tracks because it’s a BNSF matter.

”I have no problem with putting a mat on the pier itself.”

While questions from Coun. Elaine Cheung to Klassen established that pier accessibility had not yet been an agenda item for the Accessibility Committee, Klassen confirmed it was the subject of discussion by committee members subsequent to their January meeting.

“This has not been an agenda item, which is why my motion asks for it to be brought to that committee,” he said.

Formerly the owner of a White Rock-based human resources consulting business, Bains has been in a wheelchair for the past two years – with a rare condition ultimately diagnosed as a herniated spinal cord.

In her Jan. 29 presentation, she had argued for a cost-effective, low-maintenance mat to be installed on the pier that could even out the surface, eliminating cracks between boards that have demonstrably trapped wheelchair wheels, and reducing tripping hazards generally.

Noting several commercial producers, she had given a ballpark estimate for installation of a mat on the pier at some $100,000, and suggested a number of funding options through grants which she said the collective was willing to pursue.

She also cited real-life applications, such as the pier in Santa Monica, Ca., that have shown such mats to be both effective in improving safety – even for the able-bodied – and that they require minimal maintenance.

To date, the collective’s initiative has received support letters from Self Advocates of Semiahmoo, Spinal Cord Injury BC, the MS Society of Canada, South Fraser Active Living, Semiahmoo Community Safety Society, CARP National and CARP White Rock/Surrey, Brella Community Services Society, Cerebral Palsy Association of BC, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Muscular Dystrophy of Canada, Peace Arch Hospital Foundation, Disability Alliance BC, Indigenous Disability Canada, the Surrey Board of Trade, South Surrey White Rock Chamber of Commerce, White Rock Museum, Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford, South Surrey MLA Elenore Sturko, and South Surrey-White Rock MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay.

Bains said that although she met with some resistance to the proposal from Gordon when she first suggested it in 2021 (he raised whether it would, itself, be a tripping hazard, and whether the wood surface would rot beneath the mat), she has diligently gone about gathering information on products, actual practical applications and funding opportunities in an attempt to ensure all questions are answered.

“At all points, I have been respectful,” she said.

“I believe this is possible. I believe I can get $100,000. I believe the city can find $100,000 without claiming a hardship. I think (accessibility of the pier) is a human rights issue. It’s not an option. It’s an obligation.”

Bains said she derives inspiration from the words of Canada’s Chief Accessibility Officer Stephanie Cadieux (also a Peninsula resident, who has expressed support for the collective’s pier initiative) whose first report to Parliament was tabled Wednesday in Ottawa.

In her remarks, Cadieux called for mandatory accessibility education and training for all employees working in the public sector and in federally regulated industries, and for conversations about accessibility to become organisational priorities.

“We cannot simply leave it up to people to do the right thing,” Cadieux said.

“We have already tried that, waiting years for the right things to happen, for barriers to be removed. But the barriers remain. We need regulations to ensure that change happens.

“We must view these changes as urgent necessities, and the fact that many still don’t is one of the biggest challenges we face and one of the biggest threats to our success,” Cadieux continued.

“It’s critical that we change attitudes and perceptions of people with disabilities, and make accessibility a key societal value, not just a nice-to-have.”

About the Author: Alex Browne

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