Nunavut’s disabled residents face multiple obstacles
“Everyone in the room seemed to recognize that communication was an issue overall"
Marnie Peters only stayed in Iqaluit for two nights, but in that brief visit, she had a tough time getting around the city.
Peters, who uses a wheelchair to get around, found ramps difficult to navigate, for example.
Wheelchair ramps outside of Nunavut are usually concrete but in Iqaluit, they are most often steel grates, constructed not for the ease of wheels, but to counteract the impact of ice and snow.
“It’s not smooth. Sometimes the grates are oriented the wrong way so your front wheels get stuck,” Peters said at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit.
And “people tend to congregate more and smoke on them, because they’re not around the front door as often,” she said.
Taking a taxi is also difficult. Most cabs are vans, which are elevated more than cars.
“Very difficult to get into from a wheelchair. Or if you have agility limitations, if you’re using a cane or your walker,” she said.
Also, there’s no sidewalks and snow isn’t cleared in the right places, Peters said.
Now, considering all those obstacles, imagine there’s an emergency: how would Iqaluit’s disabled citizens cope?
That’s why Peters visited Nunavut March 14 — she’s the project manager of On Thin Ice, an Ottawa-based group that dedicates itself to emergency and disaster preparedness for people with disabilities.
Her goal was to gather stakeholders for workshops to show them the potential difficulties people with disabilities might face during an emergency situation.
“What I would say is there’s probably not an adequate plan for giving enough or the right kinds of assistance for them,” Peters said.
Iqaluit was Peters’ last stop during a tour of northern communities and it attracted government officials, city staff, members of the RCMP and firefighters.
The theme from the workshop: Iqaluit can do better.
“I think everyone identified that there’s room for improvement,” Peters said.
“Everyone in the room seemed to recognize that communication was an issue overall.”
Not everyone can speak English in the community, whereas emergency workers speak English predominately.
And information is usually distributed through radio, television or the Internet. But if you’re deaf or blind, that could be a problem.
“There’s just reliance on a few methods, which aren’t necessarily going to be effective,” Peters said.
A combination of low-tech responses such as phone trees and door-to-door checkups during disasters, along with the use of different forms of media, are a few ideas that came out of the workshop.
Peters’ ultimate goal is to “work with the stakeholders to ensure that people with disabilities are included in disaster planning.”
Iqaluit’s disaster management plan is currently under review, and it’s Peters’ hope that people with disabilities are taken into consideration.
She said her team will now go back to Ottawa and look at common issues, challenges and themes in northern communities.
They’ll also consider international best practice, how best to implement those in the North and report back to stakeholders in various communities with findings and recommendations.
City councillor Noah Papatsie, who is blind and uses a guide dog, said change might already be under way as a result of the workshop.
Speaking over the phone, Papatsie detailed his own issues with getting around.
He said twice a cab has demanded that Papatsie pay a fare for his guide dog.
Also, the day of the workshop at the Frobisher Inn, an employee at the hotel said he wasn’t allowed to bring his dog in — even though he usually goes through the place hassle-free.
“People need to be more aware. And be more positive,” Papatsie said.
Papatsie said he’s planning to organize a group or committee dedicated to emergency care for people with disabilities.
The group is still in its planning stages but it would focus on informing people about policies and procedures, and training people in the workforce as well.
“It’s going to be a while, but we are doing something about it,” Papatsie said.