Former Courtenay resident, Brian George, has been dealing with wheelchair accessibility issues his entire life, but he doesn’t let that stop him.
On Friday, George rolled all the way up Ryan Road in his wheelchair, a trip that took approximately 40 minutes. This latest accomplishment is part of his Halifax Oddesy Tour; George has wheeled up hills across Halifax, N.S., and now Courtenay, to raise awareness about accessibility issues in many cities.
— Brian George (Wheelchair Ninja) (@Wheels_Ninja) 11 August 2018
George was born with spina bifida and as a result has been in a wheelchair since he was 3 years old. He lived in Courtenay for 20 years and often ran into issues getting around in his wheelchair, but it wasn’t until he moved to Halifax in 2014 that he decided to advocate for better accessibility.
After wheeling himself across the bridge from Halifax to Dartmouth and documenting it on social media, he got an outpouring of support from followers – many of whom suggested other hills for him to roll up next.
“I wanted to wheel across [the bridge] for the experience,” said George. “But it got to the point that it wasn’t even for fun anymore.”
His journey soon became representative of the challenges that people with disabilities face on a day to day basis.
George says the most common problems he faces are the inability to get into buildings and inaccessible washrooms.
“If I’ve been out all day, as I’m wheeling around my hands are going to be dirty, there’s no way around that,” he said. “Of course to eat, I’m going to want to wash my hands, but sometimes I can’t do that. Purell only goes so far.”
According to George, if Comox Valley businesses made their buildings more accessible, they would benefit from the increased clientele. He added that sometimes all it takes is adding a small ramp in front of doors or making doorways a little wider.
Comox Mayor Paul Ives joined George up Ryan Road on his bike, and the two discussed accessibility issues along the way.
“We had a great chat on the way up,” said George. “The big thing at the time was he noticed the sidewalk is not very wide on Ryan Road. I almost ended up in the bushes a couple times. I had to ride through thorns and stuff as I was going up the hill.”
George rolled up the hill backwards to prevent his top-heavy wheelchair from tipping. He was joined by about 12 supporters on the trip up.