Event organizers showed up in a red pickup truck full of wheelchairs.
They invited people to sit in them or push them around so they could get a better understanding of the difficulties that people with mobility issues face.
Accessibility was the subject of a guided tour of Queen Street Friday afternoon as the 2017 Jane’s Walk Sault Ste. Marie kicked off the first of several guided walks throughout the city.
The walks are characterized as ‘citizen-led walking tours’ that highlight what are perhaps quite common parts of the city, but in fresh ways.
The first tour of the series - the ‘Accessibility in Downtown Sault Ste. Marie Walk’ – started off at noon Friday in a city parking lot behind the Ermatinger/Clergue Heritage Site.
City Accessibility Advisory Committee member Diane Morrell led the walk.
She uses a wheelchair after suffering a spinal injury years ago.
Morrell started the tour off by pointing at her own car sitting in an accessible parking space -the term ‘handicapped parking space’ is outdated - in the parking lot.
It sat next to another space marked with yellow lines.
Space like that, she pointed out, are called ‘access isles’ and they are essential for wheelchair users to get in and out of their vehicle.
Believe it or not, people will actually park in those sometimes she said, and she told a story of coming out of a building not being able to get back into her car one time.
The tour got out of the parking lot and moved down Queen Street.
Mayor Christian Preovenzano, who took part, volunteered to push someone around in one of the tour-wheelchairs which were provided by Motion Specialties.
Morrell stopped the group across the street from the business Winnie B’s and highlighted that if, for example, you were in a wheelchair and you wanted to go to that business you would most likely have to use a cross walk, or perhaps a parking lot, to be able to get over the curb to the street.
The only thing, those can be spaced out pretty far from each other she said.
It was agreed by tour-goers that regular pedestrians don’t think twice about that kind of thing and would commonly jaywalk if necessary.
Co-tour guide and city Accessibility Coordinator Nancie Scott said that is why the city will require event organizers to include a certain amount ramps in their street-event applications.
As the tour rolled on, the guides pointed out cracks and bumps in the sidewalk and how those are an issue for people in wheelchairs.
Morrell singled out functionally unnecessary bumps in the sidewalk –not the cracks between tiles but little seemingly-stylistic ridges - and mentioned how they provide a completely unnecessary inconvenience for those in wheelchairs.
Morrell said issues like this are why Saultites can often see people in wheelchairs riding right on the road.
The next tour stop was the crosswalk at East Street and Queen East.
As the tour descended from the sidewalk to cross the street everyone noticed the uneven and steep descent rolling off the graduated curb.
Also, there didn’t seem to be enough time for people in wheelchairs to cross the street.
The mayor commented that he and the wheelchair he was pushing only got about a third of the way across before the signal changed back to red.
A patch of chunky gravel on the road created a further mobility hindrance.
Before ending the tour, guides also made a point to mention that many downtown businesses are not accessible to those with mobility issues.
Just along the walk route - both sides of Queen Street East between Pim Street and East Street – a tour goer counted 24 businesses and 30 doors that had at least one step - a problem for those in wheelchairs - and only eight that could be considered ‘barrier free’.
Organizers said there were no businesses with ramps in that area.
The tour guides presented information from Statistics Canada that stated 10-12 per cent of people in the Sault have a mobility issue.
They said that businesses might consider putting ramps in their stores to increase the amount of customers that can access them.
“If you could increase your business by 10 per cent, wouldn’t you love to do that?” said Morrell.
On Friday Jane’s Walk Sault Ste. Marie also had an afternoon tour of Shingwauk/Algoma Historic Site at 2:30 p.m. and in the evening they held a screening of the documentary film about Jane Jacobs at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre.
2017 Jane’s Walk Sault Ste. Marie events that you can still go to are:
Saturday, May 6
11 a.m. - Bayview Walk
12:30 p.m. - Let's get inspired about vacancies!
2 p.m. - Queen Street East Historical Walk with Michael Burtch
4 p.m. -Trees and Houses of the SLUM (Simpson Leo Upton MacGregor)
Sunday, May 7
11 a.m. - A promenade through the P-Patch, past and present perspectives
3 p.m. - Food Accessibility Downtown
A full listing of events can be found at the event’s Facebook page.
“I’m going to lose a bit of weight maybe” said Jane’s Walk organizer Michael Burtch, who hopes to attend all the walks this year.