By Stuart Miller-Davis
The City of Ottawa is working to continue reducing barriers that people with disabilities may face when trying to participate in sports, according to the city councillor who works closest with the staff responsible for making Ottawa’s public spaces more inclusive.
“For public spaces to be truly public, they need to be accessible to everyone,” Orleans Coun. Matthew Luloff said in a recent interview with the Sports Pages.
Luloff is city council’s liaison with the accessibility advisory committee. The committee is responsible for providing councillors with advice about programs, policies and services to people with disabilities and seniors. It’s also in charge of bringing Ottawa in line with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Act, passed in 2005, set accessibility standards that all public places in the province must meet four years from now.
“We don’t want anyone to feel like they’re left out,” Luloff said.
While talking about ways the city has improved accessibility, Luloff highlighted Ottawa’s “Hand in Hand” program.
Hand in Hand is a municipal funding platform through which Ottawa organizations that offer programming to low-income children or children with disabilities, as well as their families, can receive grants.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the beneficiaries was Ausome Ottawa’s I Love to Ski course. In partnership with Lafleur Ski Rentals, Canadian Tire Jumpstart, and CHEO, Ausome Ottawa created a five-week introductory cross-country ski program for children with autism.
Because of the stay-at-home order, Hand in Hand has only recently accepted applications for virtual programs.
Another program that benefitted from city support that Luloff spoke highly of is Ottawa’s Miracle League.
The league was the dream of Orleans’ Desrochers family, who sought out to give their son, Bryce, who was born with cerebral palsy, a safe environment to play baseball. The league’s facilities were finished in 2015 with the help of the municipality’s “Community Partnership Major Capital Program,” which is the city’s cost-share program for recreational facilities.
The fully accessible site that was built at Orleans’ Notre-Dame des Champs park now features a cushioned, rubberized baseball diamond.
The not-for-profit league offers several different competition levels, including a wheelchair slow-pitch league, at low costs.
“I got the chance to play a game with the Miracle League and it is absolutely unbelievable,” Luloff said. “You can pull up to the plate in a chair, hit your ball and then wheel around the bases.”
One of Luloff’s personal priorities as a councillor, he said, has been to improve accessibility in public places like beaches and parks.
“I’ve been working diligently with the accessibility community, our partners, our experts and city staff for public spaces to become accessible to all,” he said.
To make beaches more accessible, the city offers special beach wheelchairs for free on a first-come, first-served basis at Mooney’s Bay, Britannia Beach and Petrie Island in the afternoons during the summer months.
The wheelchairs provided by the city allow their users to more easily traverse over sand and into the water. Luloff said the chairs have become quite popular and have enhanced participation in activities in the sand areas of the beaches.
“Water is the great equalizer,” said Luloff, who worked as a lifeguard in Ottawa when he was younger. “I know from my work in camps and swimming lessons that buoyancy really is an equalizer and allows people to move in a more — pardon the pun — fluid manner.”
Luloff also pointed to other accessibility improvements that have been made at city parks, such as Orleans’ Kinsella Park, where pathways have been widened and resurfaced.
“Accessibility to parks is super important because that’s where sports are being played. These paths have been made wider which allows for better accessibility for wheelchair users but also a smoother wider surface which is easier to walk on for those that are visually impaired,” Luloff said.