Whistler Makes Access for All a Priority
Since the spring of 2009, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has made it a priority to assess the accessibility of the resort’s built environment for people with both visible and non-visible disabilities. The Measuring Up Coordinator and Committee — with representation from municipal government, the accommodation and retail sectors, adaptive sport, community services and the like — made significant progress in time for the 2010 Paralympics. Local officials, though, recognized that addressing accessibility, over the long term, was both the right thing to do and good for business, said Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who recently completed a seven-year stint as the resort community’s mayor.
“The municipality is dedicated to being accessible and inclusive to all people and that extends to community members and visitors with both visible and non-visible disabilities,” Wilhelm-Morden said, adding that accessibility for all is a key component of municipal planning efforts.
Wheelchair ramps and disabled parking stalls are just the start of any effort to promote independence for those with mobility challenges. Information — about the locations of ramps, wheelchair-accessible washrooms and elevators, for example — is equally important. Early in the initiative, the Access Whistler Map was created. It’s not just about ensuring resort guests can get to the front door of a store, pub or public facility: “In many cases, you not only need a ramp to access that store or restaurant; you also have to have accessible aisles and spaces inside the shop or restaurant,” Wilhelm-Morden said.
Chelsey Walker, executive director of the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program, said buy-in from Whistler Blackcomb (WB) and the accommodation and retail sectors has been key to making Whistler one of the continent’s most accessible four-season resorts. For example, when the Jeff Harbers Adaptive Sports Centre, at Olympic Station on Whistler Mountain, was established, WB didn’t hesitate to install automatic door openers to help with access and egress from the building.
“Universal design has allowed every learner going out from Olympic Station —whether they have a disability or not — to get out without having to hassle with the doors,” Walker said.
Walker and Wilhelm-Morden agree the Paralympics were a catalyst for an effort that’s still a work in progress: identifying barriers, then working to eliminate them. From Walker’s perspective the decision by the RMOW to create a permanent full-time position to address accessibility issues has helped immensely in that regard.
“By having a person on staff, you’re not relying on advocates to push you,” Walker said. “You’ve got someone on staff who can look at a development proposal and say, ‘Hey, have you thought of that? Have you thought of that?’”