Less than 10% of the businesses are currently barrier free to people with disabilities, says accessibility advisory committee chair
Newmarket’s accessibility advisory committee wants to make it easy for Main Street businesses to become more accessible.
The committee is rolling out a new initiative to encourage this, by providing free accessibility audits, financial incentives and high school student support.
Committee chair Steve Foglia, who presented the concept to the BIA management board July 7, said beyond serving the millions of people with disabilities, adding accessibility is a savvy move for businesses to attract customers.
“A business that commits to accessibility sends a strong message that people with disabilities are welcome,” Foglia said. “Accessibility brings additional buying power to benefit your business.”
Foglia said less than 10 per cent of Main Street businesses are accessible, mostly due to a step or two to get inside. But the initiative seeks to change that, with the municipality offering up to $5,000 for projects as part of its financial incentive program for the downtown. The town will also offer grant writing assistance for federal accessibility renovation programs, which could provide up to $100,000.
The town’s accessibility committee is also partnering with York Region District School Board to have specialist high skill major students explore the issue from a business, arts and culture or construction/design perspective.
“We are looking forward to the opportunity to come together and address the issue of barrier-free accessibility for residents and business owners in downtown Newmarket,” lead Chris Tucker said in a quote supplied for the presentation. “These students are in grades 11 and 12 and have a mandate to work with industry and community to apply their skills outside of school to help inform their career path decisions.”
Councillor Bob Kwapis said some areas could be challenging to make accessible because they are older, but added it needs to happen.
“This is very important for Main Street,” Kwapis said. “We have to make this happen and I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Foglia said the committee has prioritized Main Street accessibility since the start of its term in 2018, though the pandemic delayed progress. He said he hopes to have some projects finished by the end of the municipal term in 2022, though added the effort would have to extend beyond that.
“I don’t think we’re going to do them all in this time frame, but every little bit helps,” he said. “Do as much as we can.”
Foglia said the committee is looking for anyone from the construction sector who can volunteer support.
As a wheelchair user, he said it is frustrating being unable to access Main Street businesses as others can.
“It’s for the greater good, at the end of the day.”