By Steve Hubrecht

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All three Columbia Valley municipalities are quickly putting together accessibility committees, each with the aim of creating an official accessibility plan for its community.

Canal Flats is currently searching for members to make up its accessibility committee, Invermere has appointed its corporate officer Kindry Luyendyk to lead its efforts to form a committee, and Radium Hot Springs was, as the Pioneer went to press, poised to appoint three Radium residents to its accessibility committee.

There is somewhat of a sense of urgency among the municipalities, because they are required, under the B.C. Accessibility Act, to not only have accessibility committees formed, but also to have established accessibility plans and have created a mechanism for public feedback about municipal accessibility by Sept. 1 this year.

The act became law three years ago, but at the time the B.C. government set the date for compliance set well into the future, first in 2022, then later switching it to 2023. That future is now here. During this past May’s Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) meeting, the provincial Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction indicated there is some flexibilities in the requirements, outlining that the accessibility plan could be “a draft plan, a plan that the organization is consulting on, an existing plan that is amended to include accessibility, a plan developed jointly with others, a webpage with links to strategies and plans that already exist that remove barriers.”

Still, municipalities here in the Columbia Valley are moving speedily to get accessibility committees formed and plans created. 

Radium Hot Springs is the furthest along of the valley’s municipalities in this regard, and during its Monday, June 12 meeting, council was set to appoint Radium residents Linda Maurer, Diana Roxas-Brough and September Fleury to its accessibility committee, along with Radium councillor Erin Palashniuk (who will be a non-voting member of the committee). Radium corporate officer Jill Logan and a member of Radium’s public works department will also be part of the committee in a support capacity. Maurer, Roxas-Brough and Fleury all have experience working with or living with individuals with diverse abilities.

“We’re very excited to see what the accessibility committee thinks of the work we have already done to make Radium an accessible community and to suggest areas where we can improve,” Radium Mayor Mike Gray told the Pioneer.

Radium chief administrative officer Adrian Bergles noted it will be the first such official plan for Radium and that “it will come together quickly.” Gray also was optimistic that the committee would be able to get the plan done swiftly, saying “hopefully we are on track to meet those (Sept. 1) deadlines.”

Invermere Mayor Al Miller said, “We’re lucky that we have some very community-minded people in Invermere who have accessibility challenges and have helped point out to us where we can improve.” 

He noted they have been trying to take it seriously, adding that the requirements of the Accessibility Act are still very much necessary. 

“This (Invermere’s accessibility committee and accessibility plan) are relatively new. There will be more information on this to come,” Miller said.

In Canal Flats, “we are actively looking for a committee chair and members,” said chief administrative officer Richard Wayken. He noted there are some challenges for smaller communities such as Canal Flats. For instance, he explained the committee is supposed to be comprised of local volunteers, three of whom should ideally have accessibility challenges and one who should be Indigenous. Wayken noted there may not be three such people with the time and desire to volunteer for the committee in Canal Flats, which has a population of 800.

“We don’t necessarily have the breadth of diversity they are looking for,” he said. 

A solution to that particular problem could be a Columbia Valley-wide accessibility plan. Wayken said there could be value in that approach, but also challenges. The biggest of those is simply the differences among the valley’s communities. 

For instance, Canal Flats has logging trucks driving in its downtown core, which any accessibility plan must address. But Invermere doesn’t have logging trucks downtown, he noted, adding there are many other differences.

“There are financial implications too,” added Wayken. “The issue (of accessibility) is just as complex in Canal Flats as in a big city, but we don’t have the same financial resources as a big city.”

He said he’s hopeful the provincial government will offer some financial support for smaller communities to help with their accessibility committees and plans, but so far there’s been no indication of that. 

“If it is approached correctly, a ton of good things can come out of this,” Invermere accessibility advocate Tanelle Bolt told the Pioneer.