Photo courtesy of Scott Courtemanche

Ramp Up reaches first milestone in making downtown Fernie more accessible

Bright purple ramps resting outside businesses in downtown Fernie are signs that inclusivity is alive and well.

Thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers, 17 businesses are now accessible to those with physical limitations.

This was accomplished through the construction of portable ramps, funded through donations from the public and donated to businesses downtown.

The intiative, Ramp Up, is being spearheaded by Grace Brulotte, a Fernie-born wheelchair-bound individual who has been an advocate for inclusivity. She also recently founded the Gracie Lou Foundation along with photographer Scott Courtemanche and Elkford councillor Steve Fairbairn. Their goal is to improve the physical environment, sense of inclusion and level of awareness of and for all persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and anyone with limited functionality in and around Fernie.

Look back: Fernie initiative to ramp up accessibility

Now, nearly every business downtown with a single step entrance has an access ramp available. Fifteen of the businesses who received ramps include: Himalayan Spice Bistro, Healing Hollow, Hempire, Cryptic Hive Tattoos, Coal Town, Fernie Stationers, H&R Block, Heaven Boutique, Giv’er, Jay’s Jewellers, Mountain High Travel, Cottonwood Tree, Freyja, Island Lake Lodge Office, Edward Jones Investments, Fernie Arts Co-op and No. 3 (Second Entrance).

Brulotte said it was surreal experiance.

“I’ve lived here for 23 years and some stores I have never visited until Monday when we dropped off the ramps,” said Brulotte. “It was really neat for me to be able to have that full downtown experience.”

When the proposal for portable ramps first came before the City of Fernie, the Ramp Up group walked the downtown strip with manager of planning, Patrick Sorfleet. Because the ramps are not permanent fixtures, the city planner quickly realized that there was no approval needed from the City. If a fixture was permanent, he explained that approval would be needed.

“In the end, I think what people might have thought was a big issue or big hurdle (snaps fingers), it was easy; let’s go,” said Sorfleet. “And they’re already in.”

Some locations, Sorfleet explained, will be hard if not impossible to make inclusive because of their close proximity to street corners, or because the ramp would be so big it would block most of the sidewalk.

“It really comes down to a case-by-case situation,” he said.

Mayor Ange Qualizza expressed her gratitude towards the volunteers and staff members that spearheaded this project, and spoke to her appreciation of the level of enthusiasm shown by City staff and council to work on this project. She hopes that this kind of initiative can echo into neighbouring communities.

Fernie councillor Kyle Hamilton said he was surprised at how easy this solution was to implement, and questioned why it had not happened sooner. In addition, he explained that his involvement with Grace Brulotte and Scott Courtemanche over the years has opened his eyes to the fact that accessibility and inclusivity is being looked at the wrong way.

“We think we’re building these ramps for people who are in wheelchairs, we think we’re building these ramps for people with disabilities, but how many of us have parents or grandparents who have just had a hip replaced? And stepping up a six-inch step means they can’t go into that shop,” Hamilton said..

“Walk down Second Avenue in the summertime. How many kids strollers are left out front of shops or people just walk right by a shop because they can’t push a stroller up,” added Hamilton.

“The idea of accessibility and inclusivity I think, as a society, we need to change how we are approaching that. If you’re able-bodied you can walk up a ramp. If you’ve got wheels or something else, you can’t walk up the stairs. So why are we still building stuff with stairs and not just everything?”

The Gracie Lou Foundation is now making plans for phase two of the Ramp Up project which involves making buildings with multi-step entrances inclusive. At the same time they hope to continue to complete phase one, which involves providing all single-step businesses in Fernie a ramp.

The Gracie Lou Foundation would like to recognize the amazing volunteers who donated their time to build the purple access ramps. The crew at Rigby Built Contracting Ltd: Michael Lobley, Cameron Aston, Alex Hickey, Donnie Trainor, John Muir and Toby Rigby. Andreas from Schnell Carpentry, Counsellor Kyle Hamilton, Scott Courtemanche, Justin Rahardjo, Ra Garvery and Mal Morrison.

Support for the project was received The Fernie Legion, Highline 100, Edge of the World, Jodi and Matt, Canadian Tire Fernie, Home Hardware Fernie, and The Fernie Printing Company.

“I think it’s just fantastic if this simple solution travels down the Valley, and people start realizing, instead of exactly what Kyle just said, the challenges, but see the opportunities of just a simple solution and what that means to a variety of people in your community,” said Qualizza.

“To see this sort of thing happen and to see the community buy-in and the support for it, has been overwhelming really,” said Hamilton.

To request a ramp, please contact Gracie at gracieloufoundation@gmail.com.

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