James Ludvigson doesn’t think the City of Penticton is doing too badly when it comes to making things accessible for the physically challenged, but he does say there is one area where they will get a failing grade from him this summer.
The issue is picnic tables — there are only two he knows of in city parks that he can roll his motorized wheelchair up to and enjoy a social afternoon or evening outdoors.
“I can only sit decently with friends and family here or over at the skateboard park,” he said, sitting at an extended picnic table behind the SS Sicamous. “And the skateboard park can get pretty busy, pretty noisy and rowdy as well.”
The table Ludvigson is sitting at was dedicated to Glendine “Snooky” Seeley, who was a local activist for accessibility as well as an athlete, bringing home six gold medals form the 1968 wheelchair games.
“She was no slouch … she was a huge advocate for access,” said Ludvigson. Her philosophy, he continues, was not to request special treatment, an aim that mirrors his own.
“I’m not asking for anything special. Whatever anyone else is doing, I what to be able to do it too,” he said.
Before mid-July, Ludvigson wants to see at least one table in each Penticton park modified to accommodate a person using a wheelchair.
Making more tables accessible is a difficulty that he feels can easily be solved. And if the city doesn’t take action by early July, Ludvigson said he is willing to take matters into his own hands and risk arrest.
“I have friends with power tools and black masks,” he said.
He’d like to see the city simply remove some of the seats on the square picnic tables that dot city parks, making it easy for someone in a wheelchair to roll right up and join their family, rather than being forced to sit outside the circle.
If the city won’t do it, Ludvigson plans to start the process himself, removing the four bolts holding the seat in place on one of the square tables to make room for his chair.
If he should decide to attack the benches himself, Ludvigson plans to not only invite the media to witness the event, but the RCMP as well, so they will be on hand to arrest him.
Another stumbling block he wants to see removed is a provision in city policy that allows people donating funds for a table — the source for most of the city’s tables — to decide whether to have all four seats or remove one for accessibility.
For Ludvigson, the option is unacceptable — especially since most opt for the four seats. Amenities in Penticton, he said, should be for all people.
“So let’s change the wording on that; from today forward, we’re going to say that any money that comes into they city, we use it to benefit the masses,” said Ludvigson, adding that, overall, Penticton does well on accessibility issues.
“Mainly because they’ve got a good attitude. It all starts with attitude,” he said. “But the paperwork and the bureaucracy slows things down.”
Ludvigson lists off accessibility improvements made over the years to the Gyro Park Bandshell, public washrooms, buses and bus shelters, as well as ramps on the interior and exterior of City Hall.
“There are so many beautiful areas,” said Ludvigson. “I live here because I love it and I want to make it better.”
One of those beautiful areas is Marina Park. It has been well designed, according to Ludvigson, with accessible paths, no stairs and only gentle slopes.
“It’s lovely, but there is nowhere to sit for you and me to have a game of crib. It just makes me sad; that’s all part of normal life,” he said.