Sawchuk spearheads accessibility initiative - March 2, 2017
BY DENNY SCOTT
Julie Sawchuk of Blyth has received North Huron Council’s support in her drive to make Blyth and Wingham’s business cores more accessible.
Sawchuk is a teacher from F.E. Madill Secondary School who was paralyzed from the chest down when she was struck by a vehicle while cycling on County Road 25 two years ago. She explained, at council’s Feb. 21 meeting, that teaching is her first passion and her new passion is accessibility and the project she was bringing to council was an amalgam of the two passions.
The StopGap community ramp project allows business owners the opportunity to make their stores accessible without major renovations. Movable, wooden ramps are custom-built for each specific business and can be brought out whenever an individual with mobility needs wants to enter into the store.
“StopGap has built over 600 ramps since they started in 2014,” Sawchuk explained. “There are over 25 one-step shops in Wingham and Blyth and we’re looking at making 25 ramps.”
Sawchuk said the ramps would be made by Madill students and provided to the stores ideally through a donation of the wood from local lumber providers like Rona in Wingham and the Blyth Castle Building Supply in Blyth.
“The students will be coming downtown to talk to the businesses which is one of the best things for them to do,” she said. “The project gets them out into the community with a project they can take ownership of. They talk to the businesses, take measurements, take them back to the school . . . build the ramps and then bring them downtown and deliver them.”
Sawchuk said the students then get to see the ramps in use for years, reinforcing how they contributed to their community.
Sawchuk wasn’t asking the township for money, because she hopes donations will cover all project costs. Each ramp costs approximately $40 to build and paint she said.
Councillor Yolanda Ritesma-Teeninga asked Sawchuk if she had discussed the idea with the Wingham and Blyth Business Improvement Areas, which she said she hadn’t. Sawchuk wanted to discuss the plan with North Huron first.
Councillor Bill Knott was in favour of the project, saying if Sawchuk needed help, she should let council know.
Councillor Trevor Seip warned that the project, while promising, will be a temporary measure for the upcoming accessibility requirements and is not a permanent solution.
Sawchuk explained the ramps aren’t just for people who are in wheelchairs but for anyone with mobility issues. Steps, even smaller, single steps, can be a huge burden for people unable to navigate them Sawchuk said. She also said the ramps work well for people delivering items by use of a cart.
Council supported Sawchuk’s initiative and, in an interview after the presentation, Sawchuk welcomed businesses to get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org