Langley Township council members and senior staff ended up with sore arms, sticky fingers and an increased awareness of living with a disability.
They took part in the Langley Pos-Abilities Society Try on a Disability (TOAD) program last week and had a good-natured challenge to see who could win a couple of contests that involved everyday tasks that can be difficult for people with disabilities or mobility and vision impairments.
“I will leave it up to both mayors to decide what the penance is for losing the event,” said Zosia Ettenberg, the society’s executive director.
The City has said it will have Township Mayor Jack Froese don a City T-shirt for a day.
Langley City won the challenge but both municipalities got the message.
The participants had to do such things as put jam on a cracker with their non-dominant hand, so get an idea of what it’s like for a person who has had a stroke. They also had to navigate their municipal buildings to get to an from a bathroom, including washing with soap and drying their hands, in a timed event. There were special goggles used to show people what visual impairment was like for those with macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.
“I had the pleasure of being one of the participants, and I have to say it was an eye opening experience,” said Farzad Ardestani, the Township’s Facilities Planning and Construction manager.
He added that the event will help build a better relationship between the Township and this community group which will help make facilities more accessible and age-friendly.
“The event was an excellent opportunity to appreciate the challenges that people with disabilities face each and every day. We learned that by making simple small adjustments like changing a handle, we can make a positive and significant impact for people,” said Sandra Cipari, the Township health and safety manager who also competed.
They said this brings an important perspective to the work of staff.
“The wheelchair was very challenging,” City Mayor Val van den Broek said, noting the Timms Community Centre wheelchair bathroom was a tight squeeze.
Langley Pos-Abilities has taken the TOAD program into local schools and other group settings. The municipal challenge was to not only raise the awareness for council members and staff, but to also get them thinking about infrastructure and planning issues.
“It gives an insight into all the different levels of challenges in our community,” said Councillor Teri James.
Rosemary Wallace, another City councillor, said the eye challenges struck her because as an artist, she relies on her eyes so much.
“It’s a wonderful learning opportunity to create awareness around issues with sensory deprivation and disabilities in the community,” said Coun. Rudy Storteboom. “We can always do more, but I think we’re on the right track.”
Ettenberg and van den Broek went on a cement ramp outside the Timms Community Centre. Ettenberg explained that because the edging that runs parallel to the ramp is the same colour of concrete, people with vision issues may trip. She suggested painting it a contrasting colour.
Van den Broek wondered why such simple solutions are not part of everyday construction and planning and such documents at the Community Charter which dictates a great deal of municipal construction.
“We’re going to be working with her organizaiton,” van den Broek said. “She’s going to be doing a review and presenting it to council and we’re going to be discussing further and see what we can do as a council to change things and make things better for everyone.”