Breaking the barriers in Altona

Members of the Accessibility Committee in Altona had the chance to navigate the streets and sidewalks in wheelchairs and welder's goggles, to get a sense of what kind of barriers physically-challenged individuals face in the community. LORI PENNER/Red River Valley Echo

Share Adjust Comment Print

On Tuesday, April 2, Altona’s newly-formed Accessibility Committee conducted a downtown “walk/roll about” to gain some firsthand insight into some of the barriers in Altona.
A group of committee and community members navigated sidewalks and intersections utilizing wheelchairs, along with hearing and vision restrictions.
The intent was to create public awareness and a video of the event for future training and community planning.
This was the first official duty of the steering committee, which was formally established this month, and will receive a financial kick start of $25,000 dollars in the Town of Altona’s 2019 budget.
Committee chair Amy Pankowich says, “We’re a working group that talks about different barriers around the community and how they impact people with different needs, whether that’s physical, attitudinal, or emotional. We’re trying to come up with ideas and strategies to break down those barriers to make sure that we make the town as accessible to everyone as possible.”
She says Altona town council recognized needs that should be addressed and they wanted a group of people to assist them in meeting those needs.
The committee consists of Amy Pankowich, Wendy Friesen, Elaine Turnbull, Ron Epp, Clint Derksen, Joel Pankowich and Sara Radmore.
Altona mayor Al Friesen joined them in their walk around the community to assess some of the potential obstacles for someone with physical challenges.
“We often just think about physical barriers, but we also wanted to recognize the diverse amount of needs, so we have someone walking with us who has a visual impairment. We have manual and motorized wheelchairs. We have welders goggles. For the first time, we want to get a really good sense of what everyone’s needs could possibly be.”
Wendy Friesen has been using a wheelchair for 7 years and says she thinks this committee is vital to the community.
“Attidunal barriers are also something that need to be addressed, because until those are addressed, these other issues won’t get the attention that they need.”
She adds, “Obviously needs like mine are very obvious, but there might be other challenges that might not be quite as obvious but affect a person’s accessibility to businesses, information or being a participating member of the community.”
The findings of the walk will become part of the committee’s first plan to eliminate barriers.
“We’re going to be administering a survey for people to fill out. We need to know what the general knowledge is about accessibility needs before we can start making decisions,” Amy says.
Later, as the walk commenced, Amy was pushed in a wheelchair. She said she felt like crying at many points, and had never been so aware of the difficulties and challenges of simply navigating the streets and sidewalks.
“This is the first time I’ve had an opportunity like this. It’s so much more salient when you can experience it yourself, and I think that’s probably why we have a little bit of a disconnect,” she says.
“This has been a really great experience. It’s a privilege to get to do it. Makes you see things in a different light, that’s for sure.”