The consensus of an all-candidates meeting hosted by the Victoria Disability Resource Centre was clear – the city is not an accessible place.
Of the 40 candidates running for mayor and council in Victoria, 22 participated in the event transcribed by both an ASL interpreter and a typist, onto a large monitor for viewing, at the Church of Truth in James Bay.
“We live in an ableist society,” said Laurel Collins, a council hopeful running on the Together Victoria slate with Sarah Potts and Sharmarke Dubow.
Questions were submitted by local non-profits and advocacy groups including the Action Committee of People with Disabilities, Pacific Training Centre for the Blind, Transplant Rogues and Together Against Poverty Society.
The conversation quickly became about safety, citing concerns for visually and hearing impaired residents. Building bus stops on meridians separated from sidewalks by bike lanes was a “design flaw,” said Coun. Ben Isitt.
Council hopeful Anna King agreed saying passive discrimination can occur in planning for infrastructure.
Riga Godron, who works with the VDRC, and is running for city council said the conversations would be much different “if we had people on council who were disabled,” like herself.
The city currently has an Accessibility Working Group, created in 2016 to “identify barriers for persons with disabilities created by City of Victoria infrastructure,” according to the website.
Coun. Jeremy Loveday, who worked to put the committee in place told those in attendance the city has plans to upgrade crosswalks to include audible signals, another barrier candidates said has come up in conversations while campaigning.
Victoria has aging infrastructure, including crumbling sidewalks hard to navigate for those with mobility challenges, or who use wheelchairs.
And with so many heritage buildings housing non-profits and social services, a lot of the vulnerable groups those resources are designed to assist, cannot access them.
“The city is stuck in 1985 in terms of retrofits required,” Mayor Lisa Helps said.
Council hopeful Ted Smith pointed out accessibility isn’t just physical in nature. “A lot of accessibility in Victoria is economic accessibility,” said the longtime cannabis activist.
On the topic of developmental disabilities, Coun. Marianne Alto was asked what the most pressing issue is facing that community.
“Stigma,” she said.
Fellow candidate Marg Gardiner agreed. “We need a real change of attitude,” she said, pushing for more creative approaches to solutions.
Roughly 75 people of all abilities packed the room to hear how candidates plan to make changes in the name of inclusivity.
“This was a voice that was missing last election,” Helps said, adding she was pleased to see that change this election cycle.
The B.C. municipal election is Oct. 20.