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Input from public essential to Wolfville accessibility pilot project

Mayor Jeff Cantwell stands with Accessibility Advisory Committee chairperson Agnieszka Hayes, vice-chairperson Birgit Elssner, advocate David Daniels and co-ordinator Mike MacLean at the launch of Wolfville’s Accessibility Plan May 1 at the town’s farmers’ market.
Mayor Jeff Cantwell stands with Accessibility Advisory Committee chairperson Agnieszka Hayes, vice-chairperson Birgit Elssner, advocate David Daniels and co-ordinator Mike MacLean at the launch of Wolfville’s Accessibility Plan May 1 at the town’s farmers’ market. - Sara Ericsson
WOLFVILLE, N.S. —

Agnieszka Hayes says Wolfville wouldn’t have known where to start breaking down barriers to accessibility without input from people who've faced such barriers themselves.

Hayes is the chairperson of the town’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, which has worked with the Town of Wolfville to gather public input and identify barriers that inhibit accessibility – all as part of a provincial pilot project to make Wolfville fully accessible.

Wolfville was chosen as the test site to develop a plan as part of the province’s Accessibility Act. The committee has published a document compiled from public feedback, but Hayes says public input remains vital to ensuring the plan is as inclusive as possible.

“This is their lived experience on barriers they encounter,” she says. “Without their input, I don’t think there is an accessibility plan.”

Mayor Jeff Cantwell was approached by the province and asked if Wolfville would consider developing a pilot plan for a municipality to become fully accessible.

Town officials agreed and moved to begin working with the committee on what changes Wolfville might need to further accessibility.

Cantwell says they soon learned accessibility goes beyond obvious barriers like poor sidewalks, and includes barriers to how people move, but also communicate and understand.

“It’s not just mobility – it’s sight, hearing, comprehension – it’s so many things,” says Cantwell.

The committee launched its document May 1 and presented its accessibility plan – all delivered in accessible, plain text.

The province has mandated such accessibility plans must be updated every three years, but committee co-ordinator Michael MacLean says they plan to update it each year to reflect public feedback and timeline changes.

This feedback will be gathered at the committee’s public meetings the second Monday of every month and always holds time for questions or input.

“It’s a living, breathing document – we’re always looking for suggestions to improve it,” says Hayes.

The province will now feature Wolfville’s plan as the benchmark for other towns to base their own accessibility plans on.

Cantwell says implementing the plan will be a long, challenging process, but ultimately a rewarding one in making this small slice of Nova Scotia accessible for all.

“It’s a big job, but this will get us started,” says Cantwell. “Why not be at the forefront?”

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