BY BILL PHILLIPS
For those of us who are used to the wheelchair ramp at the Ancient Forest, it’s just the way it is.
For many other parts of the province, however, it’s a model for the way it should be.
It’s just one of many accessible projects in the North that were celebrated during Access North Day on Friday.
“We support people with spinal cord injuries and similar injuries so people like me can adjust, adapt and thrive after a life-changing injury,” Jocelyn Maffin, BC SCI Resource Centre Manager, Spinal Cord Injury BC, told about 40 people gathered to celebrate Access North Day. “That means that people in wheelchairs, people with disabilities, can go out into the beautiful forests and recreation areas in this year and have just as much fun as you guys.
Kicking off the Family Day long weekend, Access North Day celebrated and showcased the North’s leadership in furthering universal design initiatives across the province and creating accessible outdoor recreation opportunities.
Building off the momentum of the 2007 Measuring up the North project and an increasing demand for information about accessible outdoor amenities, Spinal Cord Injury B.C. collaborated with the province, regional and municipal government and community stakeholders on the Access North project in 2016. The initiative created a customized assessment and rating tool and audited more than 450 outdoor spaces in north-central B.C.
Since then, with the support of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Spinal Cord Injury B.C. expanded the program, delivering universal design training throughout the province and auditing rest stops along B.C.’s five major driving routes.
“For nearly 40 years, the leadership of Prince George and northern B.C. communities in inclusion and universal design has embodied the northern spirit of family and community,” she said. “Our outdoor spaces and recreational area are places where family memories are made.”
The program has been noticed in other areas of the province. Mike Overend of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association said accessibility of outdoor spaces was highlighted in an audit of how they wanted to develop sustainable tourism in the area and when Nancy Harris, Regional Development Liaison, Spinal Cord Injury B.C. approached them to work with Access North, they jumped at the opportunity.
“We’re really happy to work with Nancy and Spinal Cord Injury B.C. on its Access B.C. initiative and bring Access North down into the southern part of the province,” he said. “We want to get these programs in place to get accessibility in place throughout the tourism industry.”
The Access North project also has the support of Prince George city council.
“Prince George is not just northern B.C.’s supply and service centre,” said Mayor Lyn Hall. “It’s also a community that strives to provide an inclusive experiences and access to recreation and outdoor spaces.”
Access North is a project that speaks directly to council’s age-friendly action plan, he said.
“The city of Prince George is certainly a willing partner in the endeavours you take.”
“As our population ages and becomes more diverse, we’re committed to creating inclusive communities that better meet people’s needs,” said Harris. “Spinal Cord Injury B.C.’s Access North project is a one‐of‐a‐kind initiative that celebrates our region’s spectacular beauty and showcases our accessible amenities, opening up the North to everyone. We’re proud to acknowledge all the hard work we have done together, and we look ahead to continued strong partnerships within our communities and opportunities for increased accessibility in B.C.”