Most weeks, Jessie Simpson, 25, gets picked up in a van and driven to Savona, B.C. so he can visit his mom — a trip he wouldn’t be able to make as often without the help of a local nonprofit.
Jessie uses a wheelchair due to irreparable physical and cognitive damage he suffered as a 17-year-old after being assaulted with a baseball bat in the Kamloops area in 2016. The event left him with a traumatic brain injury and a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body, making him unable to walk unassisted.
Jessie’s mother, Sue, who prefers to be known as Jessie’s mom, says that while he endures pain and repeated surgeries with bouts of frustration, Jessie is “usually very positive — he can feed himself and tries very hard to communicate.”
“Cab service from Kamloops to Savona and back comes to $300 per trip,” she explains, adding it’s an expense that’s often out of reach when added to the many other costs associated with Jessie’s care.
Almost every week, a volunteer driver picks Jessie up from his Westsyde assisted living community to bring him to Savona and back.
The van service, Memories in Motion, is one of many resources provided by local non-profit People in Motion, an award-winning non-profit founded in 1989 that aims to promote dignity, quality of life and self-determination for people living with all forms of disabilities.
Memories in Motion helps people find their way to last-minute appointments, grocery shopping trips, social events, clinics and any number of obligations. In the past year, People in Motion estimates the Memories in Motion program has provided more than 100 rides.
Jessie’s mom says they started using the van service in March 2022.
That was “the first time in six years I was able to bring Jessie home,” she says, adding the driver who transports Jessie is “really wonderful, takes her time and tries to accommodate us.”
Jessie’s mom is able to spend much more quality time with him as a result of the service, which has dramatically improved their quality of life.
Making a difference one drive at a time
Debora DeLyzer is serving her fourth year as executive director of the Kamloops chapter of People in Motion. She’s a dedicated advocate for people living with what she describes as “diverse abilities.”
In addition to Memories in Motion, the non-profit also delivers youth, active living and educational programs. The services they provide are geared towards local people living with disabilities as well as older adults, youth and others in need of support.
People in Motion is also a past recipient of the Kamloops Inclusive Leadership Award from the Kamloops & District Chamber Of Commerce.
People in Motion is also largely focused on improving accessibility in the city. Public transportation can prove challenging for Kamloopsians with mobility barriers due to poor sidewalk conditions or lack of appropriate curb letdowns.
Related: Residents say making Kamloops accessible requires action and care
Using cabs gets expensive and there are currently only two accessible taxi cabs in town. One is often out for maintenance and the other is difficult to hail on short notice as it is also used as an “everyday taxi for able-bodied riders,” DeLyzer explains.
A representative of the City of Kamloops told The Wren in an email that since 2019, municipalities no longer have any authority over the number of taxis available to residents.
On Jan. 19, 2023, People In Motion was awarded a $16,000 Social and Community Development Grant from the City of Kamloops to go toward its Memories in Motion and Mobility Garage programs.
The Mobility Garage is a new service that’s been a dream of DeLyzer’s to implement. This program will enlist licensed technicians to pick up and service mobility equipment in need of repair — such as walkers, wheelchairs or scooters — in a timely manner free of charge.
The grants are provided to “organizations that address specific issues identified in the City’s Social Plan,” according to the city’s website. The city’s social plan, developed in 2009 and slated for an update this year, lists public transportation accessibility as a top priority.
Bridging the transportation gap
DeLyzer proudly shares that People in Motion is the only organization in town that has wheelchair-accessible vans and buses available for public use as well as for its Memories In Motion Program.
People in Motion offers the vehicles on a last-minute basis, is able to take people significant distances and does not charge users. DeLyzer said that although the organization prioritizes transportation for people with disabilities, they do not deny anyone in the community transportation if they need it.
The organization has one Dodge Caravan, donated by Ralph Warner of Warner Rentals in honour of his son Nate. It also has a 2021 Toyota Sienna van, which the organization won through a grant, as well as an 18-seat paratransit bus.
These vehicles, driven by volunteers, provide last-minute transport for people in wheelchairs who can not transfer from wheelchairs to bus seats, as well as other people with disabilities. This transportation has also been used in emergency situations to bring people to cooling stations, for instance.
People in Motion’s fleet of accessible vehicles also bring community members on excursions, like fishing in Clearwater, playing adaptive sports at Sun Peaks and, in the future, taking group picnic trip to Wells Gray Falls.
People with disabilities can also join trips to the fully accessible Cedar Creek Camp near White Lake, which DeLyzer calls their “little piece of heaven.”
The four-hectare property hosts two large cabins, an accessible dock, trails adapted with handrails, kick plates and two large accessible washrooms. The location is rented out from May long weekend to mid-September with priority given to people with disabilities.
Making Kamloops’ streets, housing and businesses more accessible
DeLyzer envisions a number of accessibility improvements in Kamloops, especially when it comes to how people get around town.
She sees the need for additional braille signs at buildings and crosswalks letting people who are visually impaired know where they are. There are some of these braille plates currently in the city, “but there should be more,” DeLyzer says.
She would also like to see two or three pedestrian-only streets in the downtown core.
DeLyzer notes that her organization is solely responsible for the local Accessible Parking Permit program, which has issued around 7,500 permits in the Kamloops area.
Kamloops is the only municipality in B.C. where permit holders can park in any city parking spot at no charge, even if it is not labeled as an accessible spot.
People in Motion also serves surrounding communities to administer these permits, DeLyzer adds. The revenue from this work supports roughly 14 active living programs for people living with disabilities.
Beyond the accessible parking program, DeLyzer works to make recommendations to the provincial accessibility committee, which aims to address the needs of an estimated 926,000 people living with a disability in B.C. , she says. “The City of Kamloops has [also] really done a lot for our organization, really listening.”
People in Motion, working closely with the City of Kamloops, also used to be involved in a program in town called Stop Gap, which builds portable ramps.
In many areas, you can’t build a permanent ramp because there’s not enough space, DeLyzer explains.
“It increases business for the business owners by getting more people through the door,” she says, adding that Stop Gap will be re-introduced in the spring.
Subsidized housing in Kamloops can also be more accessible, she explains. Often, doors are too narrow, elevators are scarce and there are no ramps or automatic doors.
In response to The Wren’s inquiries, a representative from the city said the BC Building Act does not permit the city to require more than the minimum prescriptive requirements set by the current edition of BC Building Code (BCBC). All new builds meet the minimum requirements of the BCBC, the representative added, and existing housing stock is only required to upgrade when a change of use is triggered by new tenants coming in.
The city strongly encourages existing housing stock to be upgraded even if not required, but the representative explained that the cost to implement upgrades can be prohibitively high to maintain affordability for tenants.
In Sept. 2022, the city advanced its efforts toward inclusion, accessibility, diversity and equity by hiring Tymmarah Mackie as the city’s new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator to oversee an accessibility plan that fully aligns with the incoming AccessibleBC Act, the province’s own plan for improving accessibility in public and professional environments.
Volunteers and employees needed for programs
People in Motion is always in need of part-time bus drivers with class 4 or 5 licences. The organization offers paid positions for drivers but also recruits volunteers who would like to give back to their community for only a few hours at a time.
“We encourage people to volunteer to support any of our programs,” DeLyzer says, explaining volunteers can help by “supporting our instructors, making phone calls to persons who must renew their parking permits, supporting fundraising events such as Overlander Days and bottle drives and [assisting with] ticket sales for events.
Those interested in supporting People in Motion are asked to call 250-376-7878 or visit People in Motion’s website to learn more.