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'Inclusion means everyone': Edmonton woman asks city to make communities more accessible

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An Edmonton woman wants more done to ensure that community events are accessible for the entire community.

Marla Smith uses a motorized wheelchair and was recently unable to attend a community event in person because the building wasn't accessible enough for her to get inside.

"When it comes to civic engagement, it should be as barrier free as possible," Smith said. "Because when everyone isn't able to participate in that, and these are important issues to society, it basically says that we aren't part of that society."

The Nov. 28 TED Talk-inspired speaker series was promoted on Facebook as a "movement towards a sustainable, inclusive, and vibrant Edmonton."

It was organized by Ward papastew Coun. Michael Janz and held at the Metro Cinema in Old Strathcona.

The historic building has limited accessibility, and Smith said she and another wheelchair user were unable to get inside.

"It didn't really feel all that geared towards building a more inclusive and welcoming Edmonton for all when you're the person sitting outside and can't go in," she said.

Janz said in a statement Sunday that he doesn't want anyone to be or feel excluded. He said he "explored changing venues" but that is "was not possible.'

"I explored renting a second ramp and other accommodations for this event, however it was not possible to achieve the requested grade without blocking the alleyway, or the sidewalk, creating further accessibility issues," he wrote.

The event was live streamed and Janz said a recording of the event will also be shared.

'INCLUSION MEANS EVERYONE'

Elected officials should be leaders in promoting inclusion, Smith said, and choosing a less accessible venue sends a message that it's okay to exclude people with limited mobility "once in a while."

"It becomes really easy to continue that," she added. "And we can't expect our businesses in older areas to strive to become more accessible when our leaders are giving that kind of permission to let it slide."

Smith said she can think of five recent community events that she's been unable to attend due to a lack of accessibility.

"Even the beginning of November, the same counselor held the grand opening at a dog park. I'm the dog owner, I utilized dog facilities and I couldn't get into the dog park," Smith, who has two service dogs, said.

At the time, Smith tweeted that a "significant drop" from concrete onto soft dirt at the park prevented her from getting in and out safely and that the event should have been postponed until there was a safe way for everyone to enjoy the space.

"There's something about rolling past a lineup of people that are waiting to go into a place that you can't that makes you feel like you're less of a person when you're not less than a person," Smith said Saturday.

Sunday was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Smith said it's a day to highlight how communities can be made more inclusive and accessible.

"We have these neighborhoods where when we talk about inclusion, we paint rainbow crosswalks, but we put them between buildings that people can't get into," Smith said. "Inclusion means everyone all of the time, and that gets forgotten."

Edmonton, Smith said, can do several things to improve life for residents with a disability, including more timely and extensive snow clearing on sidewalks, and making sure temporary and permanent ramps are safe for wheelchair users.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Miriam Valdes-Carletti and John Hanson

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