In the past, Salmon Arm’s Maia Reynard didn’t think too much about accessibility.
But a year ago, in May 2022, that perspective changed dramatically.
Horses have been a fixture and a love throughout Reynard’s life; she began riding when she was just seven.
Last year, then 22, she was taking a clinic in Kamloops, riding a horse which was fairly green, when it began to buck. It then did a full body slam into a fence, crushing her between the wooden fence and its body. She suffered a multitude of serious injuries including a broken pelvis, broken ribs and a collapsed lung. The impact narrowly missed damaging her spine.
“It was a very huge accident,” Reynard says.
She was in hospital for nine days and then sent home, but without home support due to the effects of Covid, she explains. Her parents had to learn on the job how to lift her, how to support her, everything.
“It was wildly frustrating and wildly eye opening… The support network within Salmon Arm isn’t out there right now.”
She said her mom ended up calling 811 for support and to gather information about when her daughter should be going to physio. As Reynard became more mobile in order to access treatment, she also noticed many accessibility problems in Salmon Arm.
She did, however, appreciate the lifts at the pool, which made it possible to get into the water. However, a fire alarm when she was at the pool in July showed a troubling gap in accessibility.
One of the doors for evacuation on the back side of the facility near a hedge had a several-inch drop with no ramp, she said. Her dad had to lift her out of her wheelchair and she had to stand for a few seconds. The path was all dirt and rock and she had to go through the hedge to get to the muster point, “barely wide enough for a human, let alone a wheelchair,” Reynard remarked.
She said she filled out forms regarding the issue and sent them in October. She hadn’t received a reply at the time of the interview, although an obligation to reply within 90 days was listed, she said.
Darby Boyd, general manager of the Shuswap Recreation Society, was apologetic that Reynard had not received a response to her complaint. He also was quick to ask city staff to improve the exit.
“The City of Salmon Arm Parks crews cleared the landscaping and compacted a new walkway for improved access today. Again, I would be happy to talk to the young person or her family. It is unfortunate to hear her feedback was not received or processed but we do try to address all requests for feedback as quickly as possible.”
He said he thinks the landscaping had been there at least 35 years.
A pool redesign and a new pool are planned, but Reynard said improvements are needed now. She also said plans should include input from people with different kinds of disabilities. She emphasized she’s not an expert, she can only explain certain things about her own disability. But she would like to be involved in planning to make the city more accessible.
Reynard was in a wheelchair for four months because her legs couldn’t support her. She slowly began to be able to use a walker and then a cane.
Now, the accessibility of places she wants to go is central for her. At the time of the crash she had been finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria.
Although it was a very traumatic injury, she has already been back on a horse. But she isn’t able to ride the way she used to, due to limitations from her injuries. She is still undergoing treatment for after-effects such as nerve spasms.
To make a community accessible, there are many little things to think about, such as putting a button for opening doors in a spot where the person won’t get hit by the door when it opens – a problem she’s encountered in Salmon Arm.
Reynard pointed to the fairgrounds, where there are stairs on both sides of the stadium. She said Armstrong has figured it out, having a ramp on one side. She also pointed out a lack of pathways at the fairgrounds and how difficult it is to push a wheelchair – or even a stroller – in gravel.
A number of businesses in Salmon Arm have small lips at the bottom of their doors, she added, which make it impossible to enter.
“It’s not just a Salmon Arm problem, it’s an everywhere problem.”
Reynard noted a trend in many places to take out benches so people who are without homes won’t sleep on them, and that also affects people with disabilities or older people who may need to sit.
“It’s all interconnected – if you are able-bodied and have an income, you don’t see it.”
She points out that people with disabilities are not asking for special accommodation – seating, for example, is used by everyone.
“The only thing we’re asking for is the ability to enter and exit a building. We’re asking for the ability to participate in society.”
Reynard said there’s also the stigma of disability, one which she’s experienced particularly as a young adult. She said she’s received dirty looks when she parks in an accessible parking spot, until people see her mobility aids. And there are lots of stares, because people don’t expect someone her age to have a disability.
“I want people my age to be part of the conversation. People my age are often ignored when it comes to this kind of thing.”
One bright spot in her new awareness about accessibility is her realization it’s an area she wants to pursue. She’s decided she’s going to make a career of it, whether it’s research or policy.
Her goal for future research, preferably through the masters program at Thompson Rivers University, would be to look at a community-care model, a type of peer support group. It would also include a focus on disabilities for Indigenous people and the issue of invisibility.
“In the end, it’s all about community. Creating a support network that supports everyone,” she emphasizes.
“The only thing about disability, it can affect anyone, any day. I was perfectly able-bodied, at peak physical condition. It can affect anyone any day of their life.”
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