WHISTLER MAKES ACCESS FOR ALL A PRIORITY
Since the spring of 2009, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has made it a priority to assess the
accessibility of the resort’s built environment
for people with both visible and non-visible
disabilities. The Measuring Up Coordinator
and Committee — with representation from
municipal government, the accommodation
and retail sectors, adaptive sport, community
services and the like — made significant
progress in time for the 2010 Paralympics.
Local officials, though, recognized that
addressing accessibility, over the long term,
was both the right thing to do and good for
business, said Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who
recently completed a seven-year stint as the
resort community’s mayor.
“The municipality is dedicated to being
accessible and inclusive to all people and
that extends to community members and
visitors with both visible and non-visible
disabilities,” Wilhelm-Morden said, adding
that accessibility for all is a key component of
municipal planning efforts.
Wheelchair ramps and disabled parking stalls
are just the start of any effort to promote
independence for those with mobility
challenges. Information — about the locations
of ramps, wheelchair-accessible washrooms
and elevators, for example — is equally
important. Early in the initiative, the Access
Whistler Map was created. It’s not just about
ensuring resort guests can get to the front
door of a store, pub or public facility: “In many
cases, you not only need a ramp to access
that store or restaurant; you also have to have
accessible aisles and spaces inside the shop or
restaurant,” Wilhelm-Morden said.
Chelsey Walker, executive director of the
Whistler Adaptive Sports Program, said
buy-in from Whistler Blackcomb (WB)
and the accommodation and retail sectors
has been key to making Whistler one of the
continent’s most accessible four-season resorts.
For example, when the Jeff Harbers Adaptive
Sports Centre, at Olympic Station on Whistler
Mountain, was established, WB didn’t hesitate
to install automatic door openers to help with
access and egress from the building.
“Universal design has allowed every learner
going out from Olympic Station —whether
they have a disability or not — to get out
without having to hassle with the doors,”
Walker and Wilhelm-Morden agree the
Paralympics were a catalyst for an effort
that’s still a work in progress: identifying
barriers, then working to eliminate them.
From Walker’s perspective the decision by
the RMOW to create a permanent full-time
position to address accessibility issues has
helped immensely in that regard.
“By having a person on staff, you’re not relying
on advocates to push you,” Walker said.
“You’ve got someone on staff who can look at
a development proposal and say, ‘Hey, have you
thought of that? Have you thought of that?’”
STORY BY DAVID BURKE
IMAGES BY JOERN ROHDE