City council voted to put $20,000 toward accessibility improvements at the Brandon Sportsplex during municipal budget deliberations, a number an accessibility advocate called a good start toward making the facility open to everyone.
Inclusion Westman executive director Amanda Hamm said she was pleased with the funding, saying the problems with the facility have been noticed by council.
“I think all of our families that support us and are part of Inclusion Westman will be happy to know that there’s some action happening, that we’ve brought these issues forward and people are listening,” Hamm said when reached on Monday.
Inclusion Westman started an online petition in January to highlight the accessibility issues at the Brandon Sportsplex, which houses a pool and skating rink.
The petition cites limited accessible parking, inaccessible doors and a lack of functioning handheld showers as specific issues in the facility, which was built in the 1970s.
There are also problems with the change rooms and washrooms, which Hamm said don’t meet diverse needs. Teens or adults with intellectual disabilities sometimes need support from one or more people to use the washroom or change clothes.
Taja Lonstrup, who told council on Monday evening she has two children with special needs, said one of the biggest issues is the lack of gender-neutral washrooms. When she brings her 15-year-old son to the facility, he has to change in the women’s change room.
“It might not sound like much, but after you get the hairy eyeball a few times … it is an issue for us,” she said.
She said other city facilities are also an issue for people in a wheelchair, such as the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium during graduation ceremonies.
Meredith Walker, a mother who also presented to council on Monday, said her husband sometimes has to shower her 15-year-old daughter on the bathroom floor due to lack of accessible showering facilities.
She said the Sportsplex isn’t even close to being accessible.
As of Monday afternoon, more than 2,100 people had signed Inclusion Westman’s petition on Change.org. Hamm said that total shows it’s a community issue in the city, broader than just people with disabilities.
Money for the improvements came when councillors were finalizing the municipality’s 2020 budget on Saturday.
Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine), who represents the ward where the Sportsplex is located, said on Saturday the $20,000 is a small step toward improving accessibility at the city-owned recreation centre. He said the money is meant for improvements to the facility that can be done in the short term.
“The $20,000 gives us that little bit that might … make things just a little bit better,” he said.
While there are many things at the Sportsplex that would be “nice” to get done, Fawcett said the accessibility improvements “have to get done.”
Hamm was at Monday evening’s council meeting to explain the accessibility issues at the facility.
Coun. Shaun Cameron (University), who seconded the motion to allocate the funding, also said the city needs to take a detailed look at the facility.
“It is a good, small step on a bigger discussion we need to have there at the Sportsplex,” Cameron said.
Renovations to the change rooms at the Sportsplex will be a much bigger item, which Fawcett said the city may need provincial or federal dollars to complete the project.
With the $20,000 though, Hamm said the city could remove inaccessible doors, buy equipment so people with mobility issues can take a proper shower and address some of the issues with changing tables.
The city could also use the money to put up privacy dividers in change rooms, she said.
“The support we’ve gotten from the city and community is great now we’re at the stage of the conversation turning the ideas into action to start solving some of the problems for both the short and the long term,” Hamm said.
Mayor Rick Chrest said during the meeting the city will act quickly on the accessibility issues at the Sportsplex.
The city’s budget still has to go through the public hearing stage before being final.