Candice Bergen

Federal money targets accessibility in Nanaimo

NANAIMO – Small businesses are being encouraged to apply for federal grant money.

Small businesses in Nanaimo seeking to aid disabled people in attaining gainful employment are being encouraged to apply for federal grant money.

Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen was in Nanaimo Wednesday to call for proposals for the Enabling Accessibility Fund. Grants of up to $50,000 will be available for successful proponents with fewer than 50 employees and less than $5 million in annual gross revenue.

Projects must make workplaces easier to access for people with disabilities and costs will be shared between recipients and government. At least 50 per cent of total eligible cost must come from sources other than government.

“We’re actually talking about elevators and steps and doors that are able to open for people who can’t open them on their own,” said Bergen.

She pointed to the City of Nanaimo’s successful bid during a previous call, where the city used funding for an elevator at city hall. People who previously had trouble accessing the building can now apply for employment and “fully participate in city governance,” she said.

Proposals can include renovation, construction or retrofit projects.

While business owners might think their building is accessible, that might not be the case, said Bergen.

“Unless you’re in a wheelchair, you don’t always understand what accessibility really means, so even the walkway up to the door … maybe there’s a lot of pebbles and gravel, so a wheelchair can’t actually get up to your entrance, so if you can pave it and make it a smooth place for the wheelchair to go through, and have an accessible door, you now are fully accessible,” said Bergen.

Barb Barry, acting executive director for Nanaimo Association for Community Living, believes wheelchair users still have problems getting around Nanaimo.

“I would suspect that persons using wheelchairs and facing those barriers would say [Nanaimo] has a ways to go,” Barry said. “I know certainly in the Parksville and Qualicum community where I’m from, there’s a ways to go.”

The submission deadline is Oct. 1 and a total of $5 million will be available.

For more info, please visit www.esdc.gc.ca.

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