A few years ago, Dacian Filipescu noticed a troubling trend among businesses in downtown Victoria.
An avid store browser, the 12-year-old Greater Victoria resident often enjoyed checking out the latest comics, toys, restaurants and books at his favourite downtown businesses.
But he quickly realized many did not have automatic doors, or much wheelchair accessible parking, and a general lack of awareness of accessibility by some shoppers.
“It’s very personal because I need a wheelchair to get around downtown, but many other people with mobility issues have struggles downtown,” said Filipescu, adding he often has to ask people to hold the door open for him. “Most people don’t just hold the door open, we have to ask. We need more awareness.”
Now, the Grade 7 Royal Oak Middle School student is making it his personal mission to advocate for local businesses to become more accessible to all shoppers.
It’s a cause that is close to Filipescu’s heart.
When he was four years old, Filipescu was diagnosed with duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive condition caused by a defective gene, which leads to a deterioration of muscles over time.
In the initial years after his diagnosis, Filipescu was still able to remain active, playing soccer, basketball, and floor hockey. But within the past few years, he’s had trouble walking far distances, and as a result, relies on his electric or manual wheelchair to get around.
Since he isn’t able to continue participating in all sports, browsing stores brings him a new kind of happiness.
“I have fun looking in stores. Since I can’t really play sports, it’s one of the things that makes me happy,” Filipescu said. “It frustrates me that the store owners, the sidewalks and the people are keeping me from what I like to do . . . it’s about being independent.”
Filipescu’s mission started as part of a school project in December, but now it’s blossomed into much more. He’s advocating for more accessible parking, automatic doors to be installed and a general change in shoppers’ perspective when it comes to accessibility.
Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday, who recently met with Filipescu, said accessibility is an ongoing problem, and has heard from a number of people who say they’d love to come downtown and spend money, but can’t because they can’t access stores.
“This is something that is starting to come up from many different angles, to me, that shows we have to work together to start solving this problem,” he said.
Filipescu also had a meeting with the Downtown Victoria Business Association to put his plan into action in late January. Kerri Milton, the association’s executive director, said it’s possible to make accessibility upgrades downtown, but there are some architectural challenges since many are older, historic buildings.
“There are brick buildings that have settled so their frames aren’t necessarily square, so putting things in like automatic doors are more of a challenge. It doesn’t mean it’s not doable, it definitely comes at a bit of an expense for the business owner,” Milton said.
“It’s something we need to work towards, but it’s a long-term vision.”
As for Filipescu, he remains hopeful his condition will progress slowly. In the meantime, his goal is to have one automatic door installed somewhere in the city before 2018.