High standards, high expectations - Accessibility at the IPM
BY JULIE SAWCHUK
I have high standards. I want the best projects from my students, top marks on my kids’ report cards, faster results with each race, the best food on a night out and the most entertaining movie. Is that such a bad thing?
As I travel farther in this wheelchair I realize that high standards and high expectations may be a bit too much. As a family, we rented a cottage for a week this summer. I had been to see the place before we committed and I thought it would work out well for me. I could get in and out, the yard backed out onto the lake and there was lots of space in the kitchen. All good, right? Sure, until I had to live in it!
I had forgotten how exhausting it is to push a manual wheelchair on carpet - it’s like riding a bike in loose sand. I couldn’t reach the taps easily (no dishwashing for me) or most of the food in the fridge. Although it was great to get away, relax and read a book (or two), I was looking forward to getting home. I didn’t realize how much I depended on the small modifications we made to our old farm house - all in the name of safety and energy conservation (my own energy, that is).
Perhaps my expectations were too high? A good friend of mine said I should keep my high standards, but lower my expectations! When I got the call from Charlene O’Reilly to be a part of the Huron County 2017 IPM and Rural Expo Accessibility Committee, a million little “high expectations” ran through my head. I admitted that plowing matches were not really my thing, so I didn’t know what I would be getting myself into, but I said yes anyway. I took my high standards and went to the committee meeting with the big question running through my head: “How on Earth do you make 100 acres of hay field accessible?”
As a committee, we have had to tackle getting around, washrooms, parking, picnic tables, stage viewing areas as well as volunteers for all these areas and fundraising as well. We also hope to be able to help people with vision difficulties by providing (on request) tented city raised maps. On Tuesday and Saturday, the main stage will have sign language interpreters on site. How about the battery in your scooter - how long will it last around 100 acres? Not to worry - charging stations will be available too. Caregivers will be admitted for half price and you can get coloured wristbands to help you keep track of your group.
The day before writing this article, I went for a preview of the site with the committee - a sneak peek - and I was blown away! So much thought and work has gone into the set-up of this event! Twenty days out and I could already see how I would be able to get around and into all the public spaces. The roads are smoother and easier to travel on than my own front lawn! The tented city map already shows where the four universal accessible washrooms are located. As we travelled around on Dean’s Wheels we decided on the best places for the viewing areas at the stages and mapped out how the accessible parking and drop-off area would flow. Everything has signs so you will know how to find what you need.
How do you make 100 acres accessible? You take a small group of dedicated volunteers with a passion for helping others - people who are giving their free time after working all day and missing putting their kids to bed - and it gets done. Margaret Mead was right when she said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Word is getting out too. People are planning to come now that they know that so much effort has gone into accessibility planning. Grandkids are making plans to take their grandparents “because they really enjoy watching the plowing”. What better endorsement could there be? So, I am going to take my wheels, my high standards and my high expectations to the IPM in Walton this year because I know that I will not be disappointed!