Accessibility upgrades underway after public concerns

·3 min read

SAINT JOHN • An accessible boardwalk is just one of upgrades coming to the Area 506 Waterfront Container Village after concerns over a lack of accessibility were raised during its inaugural season.

The village, which opened on Water Street in June, will be outfitted with a boardwalk in its graffiti alley and retail row, as well as ramps for those shipping containers excluded from the boardwalk, said Ray Gracewood, founder of Area 506.

He also added the village has worked on its seating structure with more modified accessible seating options, accessible parking and a preferred viewing area during live concerts and events for people with accessibility concerns.

Gracewood said it was a priority since day one to make the village accessible, but it took time to find solutions and put together a plan as the project is unique.

"Now that we understand how people flow through the container village, what foot traffic looks like and what the requirement is... we are pretty excited to be able to sort of implement these solutions within the first summer of being open," he said.

But Shelley Petit, chairperson of the NB Coalition of Persons with Disabilities, said she was upset the village opened without being fully accessible to those in wheelchairs and those using mobility aids. She said the accessibility measures should have been taken before the site opened to the public this summer, so everybody could equally enjoy it.

"We're being discriminated against," she said, noting her mother couldn't go into the containers this summer as she's got a bad knee.

Accessibility measures should not be limited to assist those with mobility aids, she said, but should also aim to assist seniors who get off ships and those who are blind.

"We deserve accessibility," she said, "because when they don't have it accessible, it's not just that we can't shop. We also can't work there."

In June, Petit wrote a three-page letter to the City of Saint John and Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long to express her concerns. She said she also wrote to Area 506, but she did not receive any replies. Her attempts to reach the organization on social media always yielded a response stating that the Area 506 team was working on these features, she said.

"Although I am really happy it's finally going in, it shouldn't take us yelling and screaming and begging."

Making Area 506 accessible did take some time as the concept of the whole project is unique and understanding the solutions took time, Gracewood said.

"We've had a whole series of engagement sessions with different advocacy groups starting in mid-May when our containers were first dropped on site."

He said the team has been engaging with Ability NB as its "primary point of contact" since mid-May.

Construction work is being carried out in partnership with Habitat for Humanity Saint John. Installation is expected to be completed by early October.

"It is a significant investment, but at the same time, you know, it's an absolute priority for us and very important."

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal