It is unfathomable to me that a City that is trying to convince its citizens of its commitment to community safety, diversity, equity and inclusion would at the same time be attempting to disband its own Accessibility Advisory Committee on short notice without public discussion or debate.

The role of the Accessibility Committee, according to Bylaw No. 2021-004, beyond advising Council on matters related to site plans and accessibility standards; is to advise Council on the preparation, implementation and effectiveness of its accessibility plan as well as address public issues or concerns regarding degrees of accessibility and to support the implementation of related initiatives and actions within the City’s Strategic Plan.

With all due respect to the good work of the joint accessibility committee at Grey County, which staff is recommending we join, accessibility issues are not the same in every community. Conventional and Accessibility Transit (which I am perfectly willing to accept has occupied a disproportionate amount of the AAC committee's time recently), does not even exist in other regional communities.

In order to give Owen Sound even one single representative on that county committee that meets quarterly, Grey Council would have to agree to change its By-Law and mandate. As it stands, they are not due to add any new members until 2026.

Any thought of disbanding our Accessibility Committee with, at best, the *hope *that one person from Owen Sound could apply to represent all of the diversity of 21,000 people three years from now is an insult to our community and makes a sham of “equity and inclusion”.

I understand the attraction of efficiencies of staff time and pay. There were five paid staff at the last Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC), outnumbering the volunteer public members by one.

The ACC meets at 1 in the afternoon. I don't know how this came about - whether that is because there are no buses running for evening meetings or it was incorporated into the staff's work day and it was assumed people with disabilities did not work, I don't know. At last week's meeting, rescheduled so that the committee could meet to discuss the proposed disbanding ahead of the council meeting, one public member with a full-time job was able to take time off to attend, and another was unable to get that mid-day time off. Both city council representatives had indicated that they were available for the Friday meeting – only one showed up.

All in attendance voted to recommend that the committee they volunteer their time to serve NOT be disbanded at this time.

The staff report suggested that people with disabilities could join other city committees if the AAC were disbanded. One of the members suggested that when he had applied to another committee in the past, he was encouraged to redirect his application to the AAC, which at the time was having difficulty filling its mandated quota of people living with disabilities.There are no other vacancies on city committees at this time, except for the newly created advisory committee for the City's 27-year strategic vision. There are 3 to 7 possible seats for public members on that new committee, and “Preference will be given to members of the public who reflect the community population, for example, members of the indigenous, healthcare, social services, education, business, youth/young adult, and development communities.”

Note that persons living with disabilities are not included in the list of those examples of those who reflect our community.

Accessibility extends far beyond those who use mobility devices, but even there, we still have work to do. Take a look where the only wheelchair accessible seats are in the redeveloped JD McArthur arena at the Bayshore. The suites are also not accessible. Just one public building, but without the voices of people with lived experience, we can't even get it right for hockey lovers in a hockey town.

The acoustics and sound system are so poor in our re-designed city council chambers that I often have to re-watch parts of council and committee meetings on video so that I can hear what was said. Ironically, at the Accessibility meeting I had to move to a front seat so I could read lips.

Municipal grants are available to improve the accessibility of our downtown businesses and services - a local Accessibility Committee can help encourage those upgrades.

We have an aging population in Owen Sound, well above the provincial average for those 65 and up. The rate of (age-standardized) unintentional falls is 72% higher in Grey Bruce compared to Ontario. The number of people with mobility issues, hearing and vision deterioration, declining mental health and cognition, and chronic illness is going up, not down.

But in case you are unconvinced, think of the last time you used a sink with no-touch soap and water. Or hit a button with your hip to open a door. Or rolled a stroller over a curb-cut.

The things designed to meet the standards of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act have benefited our whole community.

Safety. Diversity. Inclusion. Equity. We cannot have them without everyone's voice and seats at the table.

photo from a 2018 article


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