KENTVILLE - Sharon McInnis isn’t shy to discuss how a lack of wheelchair accessibility in public places makes her feel.
“It’s very humiliating. It makes me feel that I’m not a part of the community. It makes me feel like I’m an outsider,” she said in an interview May 24.
“It’s an awful feeling to have.”
McInnis is constantly adapting her plans as she comes across barriers to accessibility throughout the province – doors that aren’t wide enough for her electric wheelchair, bathrooms she can’t get in, businesses with only steps leading to the entrance, pathways that aren’t properly cleared in the winter.
And then there’s the issues that can unfold when she encounters sidewalks with large cracks, uneven surfaces and holes in the cement or pavement.
McInnis penned a letter to Kentville’s town council May 8 to inform the local elected officials of an incident that occurred when one of her wheels became stuck in a gap caused by missing bricks in a concrete sidewalk along Main Street.
“When I was stuck on the sidewalk I couldn’t get free and my girlfriends that were with me tried to get me free and they shook me and everything,” the New Minas resident recalled.
“They couldn’t get me free and I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to do?”
A police officer walked by and lifted the back of the chair to help McInnis get out of the rut.
“It upset me so bad,” she said.
“It was a horrible feeling to think that I’m stranded on a sidewalk that’s in my area.”
She’s not looking to point fingers or place blame, but she hopes that talking about her ordeal in April can help open some eyes to the realities faced by individuals using wheelchairs. In addition to getting stuck in a rut, McInnis noted that she also realized that she could only shop in select stores.
“We counted ten stores at least that did not have an accessible entrance to enter the stores. In this day and age this should not be allowed,” she wrote in her letter to council.
McInnis was encouraged by the response she received from Kentville Mayor Sandra Snow after submitting her letter to council.
“She was very sorry about what happened to me and she asked me to come and speak at the accessibility conference at Kingstec (May 28),” said McInnis.
“I loved it. I was so happy that she did that… it feels like she’s really concerned about what happened to me and wants to reach out and try to help.”
Snow confirmed that the Town of Kentville is working toward achieving greater accessibility.
“The Town is committed to being totally accessible to all citizens,” said Snow in an e-mail May 24.
“We will be standing up a committee, which will be composed of staff, council members and citizens who require accessibility accommodation. Additionally, the province will be announcing grants for business under a new program.”
McInnis is aware of provincial goals to achieve accessibility throughout Nova Scotia by 2030 but, as someone who has been in a wheelchair since she was paralyzed by a drunk driver in her childhood, she said she can’t help but think that hardly seems soon enough.
“Why do we have to wait that long?”
McInnis is prepared to continue to push for greater accessibility in public places.
“I’m stubborn,” she said.
“I’m going to keep going.”
Her tenacity quickly became apparent in the days and months after a car careened off of the Evangeline Dike Road in Grand Pre and hit her eight-year-old body straight on while she was standing on her friend’s lawn.
Paramedics warned her parents that the odds of survival seemed slim. She had a broken neck, spinal cord, hip and leg. But McInnis continually surpassed expectations during her long recovery and the year and three months in hospital, with regaining the use of her arms and hands counted among her noteworthy milestones.
“I’m a go-getter. I won’t quit,” she said, adding that she’s advocating for greater accessibility for everyone living with disabilities.
“I have a point to prove: people with disabilities have as much right on this earth as anyone else.”