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Advocate pushes Comox for better accessibility in downtown core

Julia Tait wants the town to improve and upkeep paint markings on curbs, stairs
Julia Tait, 27, is legally blind and was born with Apert syndrome, but strives for independence in the Valley. Photo submitted

Julia Tait was hoping for change, but it was a fall and subsequent injury that motivated her to take the next step in making Comox - and the larger Valley - a more accessible place.

Tait, 27, is legally blind and was born with Apert syndrome, but strives for independence in the Valley.

(Apert syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes fusion of the skull, hands, and feet bones. It occurs in one out of every 65,000 to 88,000 births.)

Recently, she presented Comox council with a request to increase accessibility through painting or upkeep of existing markings of poorly marked curbs and steps, particularly in the downtown core.

“I can’t drive so I prefer to walk, and I really enjoy getting around on my feet,” she explained. “A couple of years ago I was (in Comox) and I fell really badly and cut up my knee. I had to stay off my feet for a few weeks to heal… all I wanted was for it to be fixed because I don’t want it to happen to anybody else.”

She says walking in public spaces with her visual impairment is similar to walking around wearing a pair of dirty sunglasses.

“That’s what I see every single day, it’s sometimes scary and emotional, and I don’t get a break from it. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, but I want to make sure nobody else has to go through what I have gone through - I just want things to be fixed.”

Tait talked with town staff, but after some encouragement from her friend and mentor Arzeena Hamir, she decided to make a presentation to council with her concerns and recommendations.

While the presentation was out of Tait’s comfort zone, it wasn’t the first time she sought change for those with disabilities.

“I’ve been an advocate for change all my life - I’ve advocated for people who have been treated differently in the Valley all throughout my school years.”

Tait told council at the Feb. 21 meeting that changes in elevation without visual edges are a hazard, including curbs without step-downs or stairs without yellow paint markings. She presented councillors and staff with various examples around downtown Comox, and noted even areas that once had paint have faded over time from weather and rain.

She asked council to consider changing the bylaws for businesses and residences to ensure that those who are visually impaired can occupy spaces without putting themselves in danger.

Coun. Ken Grant noted many spaces that previously had paint markings have faded over time due to the paint being changed to water-based, and generally it has only lasted about six months. He subsequently made a motion to send Tait’s request to the town’s accessibility committee along with the downtown Comox Business in Action Society for consideration, as many of the spaces in the area are private businesses.

The motion passed unanimously.

Tait was happy with the first step, and after receiving a letter from the town about the motion, she posted it on social media. Soon after, she received a note from Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells inviting her to do a similar presentation for Courtenay council.

“I would be willing to do one (for Cumberland) or wherever the challenges may be.”

Erin Haluschak

About the Author: Erin Haluschak

Erin Haluschak is a journalist with the Comox Valley Record since 2008. She is also the editor of Trio Magazine...
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