Downtown Slave Lake is an ‘unfriendly place for walkers’

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake – probably similar to most towns – can be tough place to get around once your mobility is diminished. It’s probably better than it used to be, but it is far from smooth sailing out there.

One fellow who spoke to The Leader recently called downtown “an unfriendly place for walkers,” referring to the wheeled mobility devices that some people use to get around. For him, transition from regular walking to the walker happened quite recently, so he’s discovering the challenges he knew nothing about when he was a nimbler fellow.

Now?

“The sidewalk is slanted,” he says. “You’re walking at an angle all the time.”

This may not sound like much, but for a person weakened by a medical condition and struggling to stay upright, fighting gravity as you wheel your walker along is an unwelcome impediment.

Then there’s the challenge of getting into and out of certain businesses.

“When I go eat at ******, I get the bus to drop me at the back door,” he says. “The front door is an obstacle course.”

One popular business downtown has dealt with the problem by installing a ramp. More of that would be welcome.

Joanne Bellerose, whose work for Alberta Health Services in Slave Lake includes advising seniors about services available to them, says she knows from personal experience how tough it can be getting around in a wheelchair. She spent about a month in one after losing several toes in a lawnmower accident. It was quite an education.

“For example,” she says, “banks say they are wheelchair accessible, but they aren’t!”

She speaks also of cracks in roads that are obstacles, and drop-offs from sidewalks to street that pose problems. Getting into public washrooms and being able to use them is also often very difficult.

Whether anyone is advocating for these folks with the business community, or the municipality is unclear. The trend, it’s fair to say, is that awareness of the need for improved accessibility has been growing. But challenges remain.

Meanwhile, the caller with the walker says getting around the shopping centre on the south end of town is easier.

Garry Roth, the Town of Slave Lake Director of Community Services, acknowledges that there are tough spots out there. He says standards for accessibility and facilitating mobility have improved, as far as municipal infrastructure is concerned. And when the town does upgrades, that is taken into consideration. However, going out and fixing everything at once is beyond the means of the town.

“As we look at projects, we look at what we can do,” he says.

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