Accessibility for disabled still an issue in Sooke

Room for improvement, says councillor

Sooke’s accessibility has come a long way, but still needs improvement, says a Sooke councillor.

Coun. Dana Lajeunesse who uses a wheelchair, said if he didn’t drive his vehicle most of the time, getting around Sooke would be a challenge.

“Things have gotten better everywhere, but there are obvious challenges, such as some areas not having sidewalks, or not having a lot of flat ground,” Lajeunesse said.

“I drive to get around and the main reason for that is because transit isn’t always available, and part of that is low population density and lack of connectivity in the road system.”

Lajeunesse said one of the main messages coming from the district’s transportation master plan highlights the lack of connected roads in residential areas, and council will look at ways of improving it.

“Outside the town core, some of the major routes like Grant Road where I live don’t have sidewalks. So I don’t feel very comfortable strolling down some of these roads where people tend to drive a bit faster.”

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Victoria resident Steven Palmer, an advocate with the Disabled Rights Alliance, who has lived with polio for more than 60 years, also uses a wheelchair, agreed, said his greatest challenge stems from people driving fast or distraction.

“It’s why I never go anywhere at night,” Palmer said.

“A lot of the road systems are designed only for cars, so if there is a lack of sidewalks and we are competing with cars, its dangerous. We sit down lower than where a person would be standing, so sometimes its hard for drivers to see us.”

Palmer said he thinks Sooke has similar accessibility to other places in the region, and he has a fairly easy time getting around because his chair is electric.

However, for those who can’t drive, Sooke can prove to be a difficult place to run errands.

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“Sooke is very spread out, and only really has one commercial area. Everything now is designed around the idea that everyone has a car, promoting massive subdivisions that don’t have any commercial spaces,” Lajeunesse said.

“It would be nice to have some commercial nodes throughout residential properties, closer to where people live, but there has to be a business taste for that.”

All and all, Lajeunesse said things are pretty good here, and he is looking forward to bringing new ideas forward to council, as he has in the past.

“One thing I did a few years ago was borrow a bunch of wheelchairs from a place in Victoria, and had members of staff and council go on a scavenger hunt in Sooke while using them,” Lajeunesse said.

“It turned out to be really fun but also raised awareness to council about some of the issues. I would like to do something like this again in the future.”

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