By Kathryn Stocks
Sinéad Zalitach is passionate about accessibility so she started the Accessible Rouge Facebook group in January. The 28-year-old was born with an extremely rare condition called Parkes-Weber Syndrome that causes malformations in the vascular system and becomes progressively worse. The right side of her body is bigger than the left.
Sinéad’s younger years were fairly normal and she was able to participate in sports. “Everything was bigger but it never really caused an issue,” she said. In Grade 7, the skin on top of her right foot started to disintegrate and doctors couldn’t do anything about it. This happened because her lymph system didn’t form properly. Sinéad spent 1 ½ years in hospital with recurring infections and by the time she was heading to high school she had to use a wheelchair full time.
She said it’s difficult to get a job right now. “Who‘s going to hire somebody who at the drop of a hat can end up septic or in hospital and will probably be gone for two weeks?” If she gets an infection, she has no choice but to be in hospital. Sinéad volunteers as an ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation, is on the board of Citizens with Disabilities Ontario, and tackles accessibility issues.
That’s one of the reasons for starting the Accessible Rouge Facebook group. Sinéad has big hopes it will be a place for people to come with their concerns about accessibility in the area. “I think everybody should join. Knowledge is power,” she said.
“When things are built, do businesses have accessible doors? When events are planned, can a scooter get in and turn around?” An example of this is Christmas in the Valley at UTSC, which Sinéad said was impossible to navigate.
She also finds that narrow doors that can’t fit a wheelchair without an automatic button mean she has to wait for someone to come and let her in or out. Bathrooms are often inaccessible as well. Sinéad said she would like to profile local businesses that are doing things right.
The Facebook page is meant to showcase how great our area is through an accessible lens. “I can go to the waterfront in my wheelchair because of the paved paths,” she said. “However, that one hill that goes right down under the bridge is a killer. You need to have someone to push you.”
Sinéad likes the possibility of having a boardwalk from the Rouge marsh to Highway 401 and she said it would be nice to have one along the beach, too. She hopes to tackle playgrounds that haven’t been updated and points out that playgrounds with sand or wood chips are inaccessible to kids in wheelchairs.
Potholes and uneven sidewalks have caused her to flip over in her wheelchair. In the GO train parking lot, she wants people to stop waiting for passengers in the accessible parking spots.
This province has the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) but the government needs to enforce it, she said. Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho says there’s too much red tape to enforce it so court systems end up being clogged with things that could easily have been remedied.
“Small changes are great but we need big changes,” Sinéad said. “Accessibility benefits everyone.”