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Hamilton must invest millions for accessibility improvements

By Kevin Werner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP

Hamilton needs to spend about $10 million over the next five years in capital projects on its recreation facilities to meet the needs of its growing population with disabilities, a new report reveals.

Some of the capital dollars should go into expanding therapeutic pools and upgrade change rooms, create warmer water pools in aquatic areas to provide better comfort for people with physical disabilities, introduce programs that are equitably distributed for all age groups and disability types throughout the city, improve public transportation to all recreation facilities, and boost promotional campaigns of what programs are offered to the public, including using sign language, Braille, and create a link on the city’s website for people with disabilities to use.

These were just a few of the 53 recommendations that a Recreation Needs Assessment Study, conducted by consultant Monteith Brown Planning Consultants, presented to members of the emergency and community services committee Nov. 12. Councillors approved the recommendations. Any capital funding requests will be directed to the 2014 budget negotiations. The proposals, once they are approved by politicians at their Nov. 14 council meeting, will be completed within a five-year time frame.

The needs assessment study was urged to be done in 2009 by the Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities so the city can meet the provincial Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act legislation.

There are about 106,000 Hamiltonians with disabilities, and that number is expected to climb to about 132,000 by 2031.

Other areas that the city’s recreation facilities lack for people with disabilities include fitness programs, services for children in the summer, programs for 18-35 year olds, and opportunities for people living in the lower city.

“This is much needed,” said Ward 7 councillor Scott Duvall.

Duvall, who has been a supporter of the popular Challenger baseball program held at Inch Park, said the city provided funding a few years ago to make the park more assessable to people with disabilities, including building trails, play areas, and pool area.

“It has been very well used,” said Duvall.

Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead also applauded the study’s recommendations. He said, for instance, the Chedoke Twin Pad Arena received some upgrades in 2010 to its change rooms, floors, benches and doors to make them more accessible, as part of a $120,000 donation from the Home Depot. The arena is the home to the Hamilton and District Sledge Hockey.

“There is still a problem with accessibility there,” said Whitehead. “A lot of great work was done. But there is a lot of room to expand. This (report) is a step in the right direction.”

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