Community: Getting accessibility in Jasper rolling

A Jasper man is posing a challenge to raise awareness of accessibility in Jasper.

Justin Riedler was born with spina bifida, a condition wherein the membranes around the spinal cord are incomplete. For the past 13 years, Riedler has experienced the challenges of living in a town that—when it comes to accommodating folks living with paralysis—could be much more inclusive.

“Although beautiful, for a person living with paralysis, Jasper comes up aggravatingly short,” Riedler says.

To demonstrate that fact, and to affect change, Riedler is posing a challenge: spend one entire day in a wheelchair. He’ll even wheel along with you.

“I want to show people some of the challenges faced on a day-to-day basis,” Riedler says. “I think once someone has a different perspective of the world they can start to look at it differently.”

Riedler understands that change often comes slowly to a small town, but there are days when the situations he faces are “overwhelming.” Whether it’s inaccessible washrooms in local businesses or snowy sidewalks in winter, Riedler says he empathizes with tourists who are unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of accessibility in Jasper.

“I don’t know how Jasper can grow as a place if it does not take bigger steps to making this town the same for everyone,” he said.

The Municipality of Jasper has taken some measures to address its accessibility issues. In 2012 town administrators accepted an offer from the Alberta Paraplegic Foundation to perform an accessibility audit of municipal facilities. The report focused primarily on mobility-impaired issues, providing suggestions for counter heights, signage, power-assisted doors and washrooms. The document also discussed sidewalks, crosswalks and pathways. Some of the town’s facilities made the grade—the Community and Family Services building received high marks, for example—but many assets are lacking accessibility features. The Arena, the Aquatic Centre and the Activity Centre could all be given attention, the report suggests.

Riedler knows all of this. After becoming familiar with Jasper’s sidewalks and structures for the past dozen years or so, he knows which curbs are easiest to approach, which washrooms have proper grab bars and which automatic doors give him enough time to actually get through them. The problem, he says, is the lack of accessibility consistency across the community.

“I don’t want other people who have physical impairments to hesitate to visit,” he says.

Riedler isn’t a complainer. He says he understands that renovations cost money, that snow removal will never be perfect and that weather and other factors play into how easy or hard it is to pilot a wheelchair around town. Moreover, he recognizes the efforts some businesses and organizations have made to be more inclusive. He mentioned new ramps at the Jasper Legion, lowered counters at TD Bank and the Jasper Community Team’s Wilderness Access Program as examples of progress.

“I’m not calling for business owners to overhaul their buildings,” he said. “But I think in some places we can make a better effort.”

Awareness is a powerful tool. If you’d like to join Riedler and The Jasper Local in the Jasper Accessibility Challenge, email

bob@thejasperlocal.com.

“Change can’t come if no one knows there needs to be a change,” Riedler said. “Everyone should be able to enjoy what Jasper has to offer.”

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