Photo above:  DAVID BLOOM QMI Agency A good samaritan (left) helps a woman in a wheelchair who became stuck in the ice and snow while crossing 116 Street at 104 Avenue, in Edmonton, Alta., on Friday Dec. 20, 2013

By Claire Theobald, Edmonton Examiner

The mobility challenged have a new voice in the fight for accessibility, with Mightywheels stepping in to advocate for their right to equal accessibility and safety on Edmonton’s streets and sidewalks.

“Mothers and fathers with baby strollers, the elderly with walking aids, or other people like me in wheelchairs, we all need the ramps and sidewalks in good shape,” said Timothy Maxwell, founder of Mightywheels, an advocacy group that is looking to promote accessibility in political policy and among property owners.

Deferred maintenance has left Edmonton’s infrastructure in a state of decay.

This serves as an unsightly reminder of historical political shortsightedness and causes headaches and frustration for motorists navigating damaging potholes.

But for people with mobility issues, crumbling sidewalks, chipped curbs and decaying intersection ramps can prove dangerous or simply impassable.

“It’s really sad,” said Timothy Maxwell.

Section 3.8 of Alberta’s building code includes requirements for all new construction to accommodate people with disabilities.

But often the interpretation of these parameters is flawed due to a lack of perspective from builders on the real needs of those with mobility issues.

As a result, Maxwell says even those buildings that do have ramps are often too badly designed to be effective and lifts are often inaccessible, estimating as much as 80 per cent of the ramps in Edmonton are not properly designed or maintained

As well, these codes do not have any requirement for maintenance, meaning there is no guarantee that once accessible buildings will remain that way.

“Property owners do not care,” said Maxwell, adding financial pressure often means builders and property owners often take the easiest way out when accommodating persons with disabilities.

Meanwhile snow covered sidewalks and large windrows make navigating Edmonton’s sidewalks dangerous if not impossible.

For Maxwell, who relies on a wheelchair to get around, accessibility means more than just ramps, automatic doors, handicapped parking spaces and elevators, it means safety and independence for his “wheeled comrades.”

“There’s no one to stand up for the handicapped folk,” said Maxwell. “That’s why Mightywheels wants to stand up.”

Maxwell understands that progress can be slow, but says the first step is understanding that improved accessibility benefits everyone, and the average person needs to be aware of the dangers and frustration people with reduced mobility face everyday.

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