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Disabled access to newly renovated Red Deer building 'shameful'

Red Deer Advocate - 7/26/2019

The city's newly renovated cultural gathering place in downtown Red Deer is not very accessible to disabled people, says a Red Deer woman.

"It's ironic," said Faye Hallett, that the city opened a new cultural services centre with a public art gallery and community programs in a building that has no stair handrails, no disabled parking — and wheelchair access through an unmarked and mostly locked door at the rear of the building.

"I'm very, very disappointed," said the 68-year-old, who needs a hip replacement and has difficulty climbing stairs.

The newly renovated culture services centre was officially opened earlier this month in the former Central Intermediate School, a local heritage building on 48th Avenue.

Hallett feels disabled people should have been given the same front entry access as everybody else.

"I think it's shameful. This is 2019. If I was in a wheelchair, I would be really upset."

Red Deer's recreation, parks and culture manager, Shelley Gagnon, said she understands Hallett's concerns, but renovations of the building's front exterior were restricted by its heritage status.

To preserve the historic look of the building, and for the sake of cost efficiency, a disabled entry and elevator had to be incorporated in a new addition at the back, said Gagnon.

She plans to ensure adequate signage is installed to let people know about the rear wheelchair access.

While there's no designated disabled parking space yet at the building, Gagnon said one spot is being created, and there's no room for more.

Hallett questioned why a public building that includes an outdoor "community common" would be built with room for only one disabled parking spot.

Earlier this week, she had to stop by the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra office, which is located in the building. She was dismayed to discover there was no public parking at all, so she found a street spot some distance away.

After walking around to the front of the culture services centre building, Hallett saw there was no wheelchair ramp or hand rail to help her negotiate several steps up to the front door.

There were even more stairs inside to the main level, where most of the administrative offices are located — and no elevator. Hallett said she made it upstairs with difficulty.

After asking a staffer, Hallett was told about the wheelchair accessible door and elevator at the rear of the building.

But when she tried to get in this way on Thursday, she was unsuccessful. While the outer door was open, the inner doors were locked — and there was no intercom system between them.

A staff worker at the building later explained that both the inner and outer wheelchair accessible doors are supposed to be kept locked during the day. Anyone wanting to get in needs to push a button marked by a small label to the right of the exterior doors.

Hallett, who didn't see this button, said "I'm not impressed at all" by the supposed accessibility of this entry — and she doubts anyone using a wheelchair or a walker would be, either.

 
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