2012 Chair-Leaders Enabling Access Calgary
Eighteen local community leaders switched chairs and wheeled
their way through the workday on May 4, in the 2nd
Annual Chair-Leaders Enabling Access Event.
The event was designed to give the participants
a first-hand perspective into what those in the disabled
community face on a day-to-day basis by spending their work day in
a wheelchair. Going through their everyday routines included
getting to and from work on the Handibus, navigating curbs and
ramps and using washrooms.
Sally Flintoft, CEO, Calgary Health Trust found it difficult to
lose her independence. "I was expecting it to be challenging but
the most difficult part was losing my sense of control of when,
where and how I could go someplace."
Chair-Leaders kicked off with participants selecting their
wheelchairs and setting out to cross the street to take part in an
obstacle course. But participants encountered their first barrier
immediately, a broken handicapped accessible door, forcing them to
negotiate opening and maneuvering their chairs through the door
with no assistance before heading outside.
The problems weren't confined to Rotary Challenger Park. Calgary
Health Trust offices presented Sally with a few issues. One set of
cubicles was inaccessible and there was no handicap washroom on the
floor. "If I were in the chair all the time that would be a real
challenge," she said.
Other leaders who participated, including those in organizations
that provide services to wheelchair bound individuals, also ran
into barriers in their workplaces.
CEO of the Calgary Handibus Association George Penny thought he
had inside knowledge of difficulties that the wheelchair bound
faced. "I witness everyday how difficult it is to get around using
a wheelchair," said George, "however, actually experiencing a
working day was an eye opener."
"I believed our facility was fully wheelchair accessible. Ramps,
lifts, bathrooms and automatic doors are all great but when you
actually have to maneuver around (and not cheat) in a wheelchair,
it brought things into perspective for me and my team."
Taking the challenge even further, Shawna Syverson, Vice
President Foothills Medical Centre and Dr. Chester Ho,
Head of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, went to the
Wheelchair Skills Lab on site to learn how to negotiate the
barriers that people in wheelchairs face.
The occupational therapist showed the two how to get up on curbs
of various sizes, deal with ramps or hills and negotiate through
gravel and other types of road conditions. Most of the tasks
involved getting on to the back wheels of the chairs and all of
them required considerable upper body strength.
"Like Dr. Ho and I, people who come to the Wheelchair Skills Lab
at Foothills are relearning basic skills," said Shawna, "Though our
situation is temporary, you really see how life altering a spinal
cord injury is when you go through some rehabilitation training. It
is so much harder than it looks."
In addition to raising awareness the event collected more than
$11,000 from donors. Funds raised were shared between the Canadian
Paraplegic Association (Alberta) and Calgary Health Trust in
support of the Tertiary Neuro Rehabilitation Program at Foothills
Medical Centre, which serves patients and families from Southern
Alberta to interior British Columbia and into Western
Ultimately, it was a valuable experience even though it was only
for a day.
"This is such an important issue to understand," said Sally,
"That said, I knew that I was getting out of the chair at the end
of the day, so it wasn't as challenging as it is for someone in a
wheelchair all the time or for someone who is learning to live in a
George agreed adding, "It is an experience that everybody should
take on - I just wished I had gone to the gym and worked on my
upper strength. Overall it was a great day and I will be
encouraging more people to take part next year."