The importance of being an accessible community is underscored by the realization that one in four Manitobans is affected by a disability.
Selkirk Chief Administrative Officer Duane Nicol says working to ensure the city is open and available to all of its citizens is crucial to its success, as well as its citizens’ success.
“One in four Manitobans face accessibility challenges, that means 25 per cent of our citizens face barriers to making full use and benefit of the services and amenities we offer,” Nicol said.
“It also means that as a community we risk missing out on getting the full benefit of the ideas and skills and passion and engagement of a quarter of our people.”
Selkirk wins Manitoba’s 2020 Manitoba Accessibility Award
The City of Selkirk was named the recipient of the Province of Manitoba’s 2020 Manitoba Accessibility Award for large and small municipalities during a virtual ceremony Dec. 3.
The awards celebrate leadership and innovation in meeting the needs of the one-in-four Manitobans affected by disability and to create awareness about The Accessibility for Manitobans Act.
Mayor Larry Johannson’s pride for his hometown is immense and making sure the city takes a lead role in welcoming and accommodating everyone is important to him.
“I’m so proud of our staff and council for really taking the steps needed to make sure all our citizens can access all that Selkirk has to offer,” Johannson said.
“It’s obvious things like the push button door openers but it goes beyond that, with staff doing all they can to accommodate everyone, whether it’s helping out on CitizenSupport or communicating by writing information down rather than speaking. They really do whatever is needed to make sure our city is accessible to all.”
Not all disabilities are visible
Edie Henrichsen, Director of Corporate Services, has led the development of the city’s Accessibility Plan, which aims to provide equitable treatment and benefit of city services, programs and facilities in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of people with disabilities.
Henrichsen was key in making service animals welcome in all city buildings, a policy that came into effect in 2018.
Service dogs shine a light on the reality that there are visible and invisible disabilities and the public needs to be aware of that.
“We want the public to be aware that if you see someone with a dog, for example, inside a city building, that it is a service animal and it is permitted to be in the building with the person for whom it is providing service,” she said.
Nicol said the award is confirmation of the city’s Strategic Plan and the fact it’s guiding the city in the right direction.
“The City of Selkirk’s community Strategic Plan is in large part a road map to building a more inclusive community. The operative part of our mission statement is to enhance the opportunities and quality of life for all citizens,” Nicol said.
Accessibility top of mind
Accessibility is factored into all city departments and Dan McDermid, Director of Operations, said infrastructure, from buildings to streets, can and have been made more accessible to everyone.
“It’s very important to make buildings accessible so that all people with all needs can use those facilities to the best of their ability. By adding accessible doors, every public facing door can be accessible to everybody,” McDermid said.
“Those little differences can have a big impact to people who need those kinds of resources when they’re using our facilities.”
Nicol said improving accessibility isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s a strategic opportunity. The city uses its award winning and innovative asset management program when renewing infrastructure and makes adjustments to ensure that accessibility and equity are top of mind.
If a street or sidewalk has to be dug up to upgrade pipes in the ground, accessibility is considered when putting the infrastructure we walk and drive on back in place.
“When we do a sewer project or a water project, we’re also looking at the sidewalk infrastructure so that when we repair we can do so in a way that makes it more accessible to our citizens, to a proper grade when we’re doing those kind of projects,” McDermid said.
The city’s CitizenSupport program is an example of the ways Selkirk is open for business to all. A CitizenSupport representative helms the phone and handles e-mails that come from the public with questions about city services.
“Our CitizenSupport representatives offer a human touch and will work with our citizens to navigate our systems and access the services that they need,” Nicol said.
“We’ve adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 for our website and continue to develop and offer more self serve options online that add flexibility and convenience to better meet the needs of our citizens.”
To truly be accessible, city staff must be well-versed and educated and the city itself must be open to adapting the way it operates. All new city staff undergo accessibility training during orientation and policies are created, or changed, to consider equity as an intended outcome.
Coun. Kelly Cook is the city’s representative on the Age Friendly committee, and he says the volunteer group, co-chaired by Lee Hanson and Pat Pruden, should be commended for its efforts in informing the city and others on how more accessibility can be achieved.
“The Accessibility Award is a credit to the Age Friendly committee, the work they do advocating for the needs of those that have accessibility issues and council’s commitment to ensuring we grow Selkirk as an Age Friendly community.”
Learning everyday, moving in the right direction
Brady Clark, Director of Culture, Recreation and Green Transportation, says gaining a different perspective helps the city be more inclusive and ultimately, allows the city to better serve citizens. Clark said the city consulted with Age Friendly during the development of its Recreation Strategy to help inform staff on various program implementations, including the Trails Concept Plan.
“This led to the city enlisting the help of an expert in trail concept planning and design so we can make our trails more accessible and how that looks for us going forward and how we can make that happen,” Clark said.
Nicol says becoming more inclusive will be a plan that is always in motion and the city will strive to improve all the time.
“There’s a lot more to do, but we are moving forward on our accessibility journey with intention and holding the firm belief that a more accessible Selkirk is a stronger Selkirk,” he said.