Dan Steeves may represent the best of what a Community Living association hopes for the people it works with to achieve. With help from Community Living North Perth’s Summer Supports program, Dan, 20, has taken initiative to make life better for people with disabilities in his community, volunteering his time to help make some local businesses more accessible.
Summer Supports is a free program that has been offered through Community Living North Perth for about 20 years. It assists students aged 14 to 21 in achieving their goals. “What we really like to focus on is ‘a typical teenage summer,’” says Summer Supports Supervisor Carolyn Bender.
According to Dan’s Summer Supports worker, Taylor Stone, this includes both skill-based goals, like getting a driver’s license, and recreational goals, like taking a trip to Wonderland.
When Dan first got involved with the program in 2008, at age 14, one of his goals was learning to operate his motorized wheelchair. It is easy to see how this may have influenced his current direction.
“In 2014, I noticed that there isn’t many places around here that are wheelchair-accessible,” Dan told Update Friday, “so I thought to myself ‘What can we do here?’ That’s when I came across Stop Gap.”
Founded in Vancouver, Stop Gap installs ramps at community establishments in order to make them more inclusive. Some Ontarian associations have adopted the plan, and Dan, through his research, brought the program to Listowel, North Perth.
Dan’s work is beneficial to all businesses, which, according to an AODA ruling, must be accessible by 2025. “The vision of Stop Gap,” he said, “is to bring portable ramps to businesses as a temporary solution until the town can implement their current plans to become totally accessible. This will enable not only wheelchairs, but people with walkers, strollers, canes, artificial knees, and anyone with mobility issues to enjoy a barrier-free environment…Stop Gap allows everyone to enter the building with ease and dignity.”
“Our goal is to 1) create awareness about barriers that prevent people from enjoying some of the amazing buildings our town has to offer, and 2) to help businesses embrace the upcoming AODA-built environment which in the near future will make it law for them to be barrier-free.”
After noticing that some of the local businesses were not inclusive in this way, he enlisted the help of Summer Supports, which did much of the legwork. The local Home Hardware donated all of the materials so that the ramps could be provided to businesses at no charge, and they were assembled by students in Shop classes at Dan’s school.
Response has been great so far, as, according to Dan, “A few weeks ago, we actually did a kickoff in front of one of the stores, and that was really well-received.” The group has been sharing its efforts on social media, hoping to raise awareness.
It’s been a positive experience for Dan so far, as, while a few businesses were not so receptive, he has learned that “…people are really open to new ideas.” Six ramps have been built so far, and Dan knows of at least two more stores that he’d like to get on board. Beyond that, he is continuing to take some online English courses, and has started his own motivational speaking business. He has a speaking event lined up for November 6th in Wingham, and has a few under his belt already.
The topic? Inclusion, of course.
– Daniel Share-Strom