In one of our bicycle rides, my wife and I met an older gentleman in a powered wheelchair. We have often remarked on the beautiful paved paths we have in Red Deer. I know that every city has them, but Red Deer in my mind is extra special.
In speaking with this older gentleman, we learned he had been in Red Deer only a few years after he became a widower. He had children close by which is why he chose this city, but he has learned to really like it here. “It’s really set up for people like me especially in a chair like this; I can go anywhere.” We met with him by the river and he had come from south-east Red Deer. When asked, he replied that the batteries last about four hours, and he commonly used them all.
As we continued our ride I became more conscious of things like curbs at corners that are cut down to make it easier to traverse in a wheelchair, and when we rode by different buildings and businesses we would see a few automatic doors. Where there is none, it takes quite an effort to pull up to and open the door, then back out of the way of it so it will open enough for a wheelchair to pass through. It’s a real bummer when there is a set of double doors, but these folks are resilient and eventually make their way in. Every once in a while, a store clerk will spot them or even another customer and will hold the doors open for them, making their entry much easier. So the automatic doors are a real godsend.
Being at an age where more and more I count each day as a gift, I find that a person becomes much more aware of the way society has come to grips with handicaps and an aging population; not just come to grips with, but makes a special effort to make the way much easier for them. No longer are the elderly or wheelchair bound residents stuck in a building and forgotten, instead, they are greatly encouraged to get out and do all sorts of things.
I liken it to a person being presented with a buffet offering all kinds of food; all one has to do is grab a plate and take what is offered. Sadly some don’t, for various reasons. It might be they do not feel entitled or welcome. Many times, some would just rather be alone, but they are few and thankfully far between.
Living along Fortieth Avenue Raceway, we see many people walking and also in motorized wheel chairs zipping along and not having to worry about curbs or any other obstructions. If there are any concerns it is the volume of traffic, especially vehicles flying around corners, so then anyone in a wheelchair will have to be on their toes, ready to get out of the way in a hurry.
I have to admit that at one time I questioned the cost of changing all the corner curbs in Red Deer, not once thinking of the person in a wheelchair and how it helped to give them mobility. Now I not only know why, I’ve seen the way it improves the life of those who would otherwise be homebound.
Any city that is growing the same way Red Deer has, will be presented with many different issues to build or change things to make it better, and in the case of handicapped individuals, easier to become and stay mobile. Though not all the improvements needed are curb cuts and automatic doors.
Chris Salomons is a Retired Red Deer Resident with a concern for the downtrodden