Chilliwack’s Cheam Leisure Centre received a gold-level rating for accessibility from the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF).
The announcement came during Tuesday’s city council meeting where Rick Hansen was in attendance via video call on Dec. 7. The recreation centre achieved a Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certified Gold rating under the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification (RHFAC) program.
Hansen called it a “milestone” accomplishment.
“You are setting an inspiring example of how municipalities can work together to ensure meaningful accessibility in their civic sites,” Hansen said.
The RHFAC program helps improve accessibility in the places people live, work, learn, and play. The rating and gold certification covers the Cheam Leisure Centre’s entire 45,000 square-foot building, including the gymnasium, weight room, squash courts, change rooms, washrooms, meeting room, child minding room, swimming pools, and reception area. The outside area, including the entrances, parking lots, pathways, transit stops, and outdoor play area are also covered.
Hansen acknowledged Chilliwack resident and accessibility advocate Jim Ryan for his volunteer work with the City of Chilliwack to make the certification possible.
Ryan became a quadriplegic after suffering a spinal cord injury in March 2016. After his injury, he started working with the city to make Chilliwack more accessible.
“We live in a great city. As someone who’s disabled, a two-inch step is a barrier to me,” Ryan said. “When I reach these barriers and I reach out to the City of Chilliwack, these barriers are removed mostly within a week and always within a month.”
Earlier this year, the city asked Ryan to do an assessment for the RHFAC and although there were already many accessibility features at the Cheam Centre, Ryan helped identify where upgrades were needed so the city could bring it up to the gold standard.
In order to receive RHFAC gold-level rating, several accessibility improvements needed to happen, including:
• the addition of four new automatic door openers
• added proximity sensors on existing door openers
• exterior large facility signage on side entrances
• new concrete wheelchair letdown
• the creation of two new fully accessible washrooms in the basement, with emergency assistance systems
• braille wayfinding signage
• creation of area of refuge, complete with communications in the gym area
All of the improvements were completed in August and now people like Ryan can enjoy the facility to the utmost, he said.
“It’s now pretty virtually wide open to all persons of all abilities,” Ryan said.
He added that it’s not just folks in wheelchairs, but people like seniors with mobility issues and those who cannot grip a door handle who also benefit.
The Mayor’s Task Force on Inclusiveness, Diversity, and Accessibility (MTFIDA) was established in the spring of 2020 to provide advice to council on strategies to reduce social, physical and psychological barriers that prevent people from fully participating in all aspects of community life. In February 2021, the MTFIDA Action Plan was released with goals and action items to move towards those goals.
“One of the goals of the MTFIDA action plan is to improve the city’s facilities, services, parks, and public spaces for persons with disabilities,” Mayor Ken Popove said. “This certification is a small step in the direction we want to go to make our facilities more accessible.”
“Gold-level is a really fantastic accomplishment and your leadership is going to inspire other municipalities across the country and around the world to start to rise to that level, to go beyond the minimum of code,” Hansen said.