Residents say making Kamloops more accessible requires action and care

Residents with mobility challenges say despite progress to make Kamloops accessible, the city can still be difficult to navigate.
Two images side by side. In one, Jay Stepp is pictured in his wheelchair smiling at the camera. He is in the People in Motion recreation room. In the other photo, Leanne Mackinnon sits in her wheelchair behind a desk at Walmart, where she works. A display of makeup products is behind her.
Jay Stepp (left) and Leanne Mackinnon use mobility aids to get around Kamloops, and say while the city is easy to navigate, there are still improvements to be made. Corrina Booth / The Wren

Residents may have noticed recent adaptations to curbs, widened and marked in yellow, at some major local intersections in an effort to make road crossing in Kamloops accessible. For the 12 per cent of Canadians living with disabilities related to pain, flexibility and mobility, these adaptations can be the difference between getting to where people need or want to go, or not.  

The Wren spoke to Kamloops residents with mobility challenges to understand what it’s like to get around in the city and what can be done to make it easier. While they all say the city — and its residents — are welcoming, the majority of them say there’s still work to be done to make Kamloops accessible.

Curb cut outs aren’t cutting it

Landon McGauley turns a corner on a mountain bike trail in his three-wheeled adaptive bike, which allows him to sit while biking.
“You just make it work, just adapt to the obstacles,” says Landon McGauley, who continues to ski after a mountain bike accident. Photo courtesy of Landon McGauley

Landon McGauley is a 27-year-old Kamloops resident who lost the use of his legs in a downhill mountain bike racing accident at Sun Peaks when he was 15.

He says family and good friends, alongside an iron will, motivated him to keep active and embrace his life. McGauley recently took home a series of medals racing his adapted bike at the 2022 MTB World Cup, a downhill bike race which has an adaptive category. 

As an active and social person who uses a wheelchair and an adapted car, MacGauley says his greatest obstacle is the lack of curb cut outs; ramped curbs that enable wheeled access to the sidewalk. 

“Sometimes you have to go quite far down to find a curb cut out,” he says, adding that he’s often faced with wheeling a full block to the nearest accessible curb amid traffic. 

McGauley also points out that sometimes without thinking, businesses position “chairs in the middle of the sidewalk” when using space for a patio — chairs that then become an “obstacle course” for someone with a disability. 

“Most businesses are fairly accessible and they do a fairly good job of keeping things kind of open,” he says. “I don’t think it’s ever a malicious thing, it’s just that people don’t think about putting chairs or something out on the street in front of a business that blocks off a curb”. 

“Even if you don’t necessarily want to go there, not being able to … is a bummer.”

A sidewalk restaurant patio blocks the sidewalk on Victoria Street. A new walkway next to it is blocked off, but it is off the sidewalk and narrow.
On Victoria Street, a patio diverting sidewalk traffic may present a barrier to some. Photo by Corrina Booth / The Wren

McGauley says he sometimes uses portable Access Trax Mats to roll out on grass or sand at the beach in order to access them. He works with the U.S.-based non-profit High Fives to connect people with adaptive equipment and services. 

“High Fives personally has some [Trax Mats] so that when we go to the beach we will put those out,” he says. “It would be neat to see them around Kamloops more.”

The City of Kamloops says it’s working to add more accessibility infrastructure around the city, including improvements to curb cut outs.

Kristen Rodrique, a representative for the City of Kamloops, confirmed in an email that “Kamloops can expect to see more of the yellow ‘detectable warning surfaces,’ also known as ‘urban braille’ incorporated into new infrastructure projects with high pedestrian use areas and where new curb let downs are required,” such as the Summit Drive Multi-Use Pathway and the Sixth Avenue Bike Lane

“Wheelchair ramps and curb letdowns are always considered, and best practices are promoted where new sidewalks are built with City projects and development projects,” she added. The city has also acquired three rolls of the Mobi-Mat accessible mats for a total length of 200 metres and aims to purchase more.

Making change, one crosswalk at a time

Jay Stepp is pictured in his wheelchair smiling at the camera. He is in the People in Motion recreation room.
Jay Stepp poses in the People in Motion rec room, in between rounds of card games with friends. Photo by Corrina Booth / The Wren

Jay Stepp, originally from Ashcroft, loves to play card games like cribbage with his friends in the rec room of People in Motion Kamloops, a not-for-profit organization that provided fitness, recreational, educational and social programs for disabled residents. 

Jay began life as an active child, but developed encephalitis, an infection of the brain, when he was seven years old. 

After contracting the infection, Stepp lay in a coma for 13 months and says he did not receive any type of physical therapy while in the coma. When he recovered, his body and speech were never the same and he’s needed to use a wheelchair ever since. 

Stepp moved to Kamloops 50 years ago and has always lived in supportive housing. Over the years Stepp says he has seen a significant change in peoples’ attitudes toward people with disabilities, including a large population of seniors who use mobility aids. 

“Back in that time, I don’t think they really cared much about disabled people,” he says. “Now that there is a lot more of us, [the city] is going to try to get it modified.”

Stepp believes strongly that the city is doing a good job of making Kamloops accessible. He says the cab service is good in town and he uses it sometimes. But the HandyDart bus service, which is available for people on request, is “wonderful.” 

He thinks some businesses and public spaces such as churches should be aware of barriers like inaccessible washrooms, a lack of proper handrails, doors too narrow for scooters or wheelchairs, insufficient room between double or single doors with no automatic openers and a lack of maneuverable space inside buildings. 

 Stepp is proud of the fact that he and a friend approached the City of Kamloops with concerns about an unsafe crosswalk in Brocklehurst and were instrumental in pushing for improvements. 

New traffic signals, also known as Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS), are used to help pedestrians with vision and hearing impairments safely cross streets with the aid of audio and vibrating push button signals at intersections. Thanks to Stepp and his friend, the city installed an APS at the Brocklehurst crosswalk.

“We got them to put in a talking light and get [the length of the light] moved ahead so people in wheelchairs or walkers can get across,” he recalls. He hopes to see the city implement similar improvements everywhere. 

Keeping city services accessible

Leanne Mackinnon sits in her wheelchair behind a desk at Walmart, where she works. A display of makeup products is behind her.
Leanne Mackinnon, pictured at work in Walmart, has been forced to wait out an order issue preventing her from swimming at the public pool. Photo by Corrina Booth / The Wren

Leanne Mackinnon works at the Kamloops Walmart and has cerebral palsy, a combination of disorders affecting someone’s ability to move and keep posture and balance. She has also had four surgeries on her foot that affected the muscle tone in her legs. Mackinnon is hopeful she will regain some muscle control and be able to walk with less equipment in the future. 

Mackinnon uses either a two-wheel walker, forearm crutches or a wheelchair as her mobility aid depending on her needs. Her vehicle is adapted with hand controls and she has an attachment for her manual wheelchair that allows her to use it as a motorized chair capable of reaching speeds of 25 km/h. 

Born and raised in Kamloops, Mackinnon feels the city is accessible. 

She is only frustrated because the Canada Games Pool had taken out its old wheelchair lift, which allowed people with mobility challenges to be lowered into the pool. When Mackinnon spoke with pool staff about the change, they suggested she should go to a different pool in town. 

“I want to do laps, but they won’t let me. I can get in, but I can’t get out,” she says. She was told pool staff would be trying to get the lift from Westsyde pool and install it temporarily at the Canada Games Pool. 

In response to this complaint, The Wren spoke with Trevor Twemlow, facilities supervisor for the Tournament Capital Centre (TCC). He expressed regret at the frustration Leanne was experiencing and confirmed that there was indeed a delay in getting the temporary lift to the TCC from the Westsyde Pool — but that it was now installed. 

“Unfortunately, there are supply chain issues, so the permanent lift is on backorder,” he explained. 

Transit gaps immobilize users

Sydney Mattis stands smiling in front of a large silver van with different logos for local charities and businesses on it.
Sydney Mattis, a TRU student and part-time People in Motion employee, stands in front of one of her employer’s accessible vans. Photo by Corrina Booth / The Wren

Sydney Mattis is studying to become a community support worker at Thompson Rivers University and is employed part-time with People In Motion in Kamloops.

Mattis has ataxic cerebral palsy, which affects her fine motor skills, walking and speech. She is independently mobile but walks with an uneven gait and says it is a “struggle, day to day.” 

Mattis helps members of People in Motion learn a variety of life skills so they can “live life independently,” she says. “I want them to know they are no different than anybody else because they aren’t.” 

When you have a mobility challenge, “there is a lot to navigate,” she says, adding she is optimistic about developing a new program for members in which they learn to figure out how to access the bus system in town. 

As a daily transit user herself, she says many bus stops and buses make it impossible for people with mobility challenges to exit or enter a bus. “There is no let down, and there is no ramp or the ground is cracked”. 

“I know in Kamloops we have lots of streets that are not paved in the best way,” she says. Mattis says people with mobility challenges have to think ahead and avoid certain areas in the community when travelling. 

Mattis says she has witnessed many situations where people on board a bus did not give up their spots for people in greater need of an accessible seat. 

“Sometimes people are ignorant and don’t let old folks sit down, and for me, even though I do have a disability, I will always give up my seat to someone else.” 

Having lived in Kamloops all her life, Mattis acknowledges the city has made progress. “We’ve done a lot in Kamloops and I am so grateful for that, but we can do even more,” she says.

Mattis hopes able-bodied Kamloopsians become more mindful of other community members in the future.

“Instead of just judging a person based on how they walk or what they do, just ask. Offer a lending hand if you see them struggling because, at the end of the day, most of us are willing to tell you our stories,” she says.

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