Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik December 09, 2013 - 7:20 am

Kuujjuaq residents walk a mile in disabled person’s shoes

Kuujjuaq health centre hosts awareness activity

SARAH ROGERS
Even the smallest steps and snow banks can create a huge barrier for people living with physical disabilities. That's the message a recent awareness event in Kuujjuaq aimed to share. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Even the smallest steps and snow banks can create a huge barrier for people living with physical disabilities. That's the message a recent awareness event in Kuujjuaq aimed to share. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Getting around town in a wheelchair with a walker or when your vision is blurry is tough in most parts of the world, but Nunavik communities can some times pose worse challenges.

Snow banks, ice and even gravel roads can make it that much harder for people with reduced mobility to navigate a Nunavik community.

And that’s why the rehabilitation team at Kuujjuaq’s Tulattavik health centre organized a day where Kuujjuammiut could walk in the shoes of those who live with physical handicaps.

“We wanted to do an activity to bring together leaders to make them aware of the challenges of people living with disabilities,” said Julie Fradette, a physiotherapist at Tulattavik.

On Dec. 3, the United Nations’ International Day for Persons with Disabilities, Fradette and her colleagues packed up the community’s adapted bus with a wheelchair and a walker and picked up Kuujjuaq mayor Tunu Napartuk and Minnie Grey, head of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.

Napartuk and Grey took the adapted bus to local stores, to the bank and to the hospital, where, using a wheelchair or a walker, they navigated steel ramps, self-closing doors, narrow spaces and crowds.

Although many buildings in Nunavik communities are made accessible by ramps, Napartuk said sometimes the smallest obstacles can create challenges.

“Even if there is a ramp, this little inch to pass the door step seems to be a foot high when you have to manage it in a wheelchair,” he said.

Napartuk and Grey noted that much of their mobility relied on the kindness of strangers, who would hold open a door or move out of the way to let them pass.

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s campaign is “Break Barriers, Open Doors.”

Fradette said the experience created frustration over how the community is designed — but that, she added, was the point of the activity.

“We wanted them to understand that some places are still difficult to access,” she said. “And the problem isn’t just in Nunavik — it’s worldwide.”

In fact, Fradette says many Nunavik organizations and businesses have done a good job in recent years by upgrading their facilities for better access.

Fradette and her colleagues collaborate well with the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau to adapt homes for people living with disabilities.

Fradette and the rehabilitation team at Tulattavik work with people who are living with both short and long-term disabilities.

The team’s members help them establish their normal routine, by helping with cooking, as well as with bathing and other day-to-day activities. And the community is a part of that process, she said.

Fradette pointed to a resident from Aupaluk, where community organizations came together to adapt local buildings — the church, the co-op, the school and home — so this person could get around independently.

“It’s pretty amazing that such a small community can adapt,” she said. “We are lucky to have the collaboration of Nunavik’s organizations to work on overcoming these difficulties.”

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