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Disability Action Hall candidate forum tackles accessibility, affordability issues in Calgary

Calgary’s Disability Action Hall hosted 15 candidates in an online forum last Thursday, the first of two to be hosted by the group.

The candidates represented nine of 14 wards and they spoke about their candidacy and on their views around issues like accessibility, affordability and supports for Calgary’s disability community.

While much of the candidate commentary focused on things like accessible sidewalks, transit access and low-income transit passes, many also spoke about the need for affordable housing.

Before speaking, candidates were shown the disability lens by which the group views city issues.

“A great city means being proactive. Use an inclusion and fairness lens to ensure all people are included,” said Andrea Van Vuyt, with Disability Action Hall.

Van Vuyt also encouraged candidates elected to council to consider the rates of social assistance compared with their cost of living. She said many Calgarians living with disabilities are in a month-to-month deficit of nearly $600.

Candidates talk issues

Each candidate was given five minutes to share their thoughts with the audience. They then went in reverse order for a final closing statement.

Ward 1 candidate Jacob McGregor was first to speak. McGregor uses a wheelchair and has lived experience in navigating through the barriers around accessibility in Calgary.

“These are issues that are obviously deeply personal to myself as a Calgarian who has a disability,” McGregor said.

He said the city’s come a long way over the past number of years. Growing up in the 1990s, McGregor said only some of Calgary Transit’s bus fleet was accessible. Getting on trains with a wheelchair was difficult, made worse when it was during rush hour.

McGregor said there’s work to do, particularly around affordability.

“So, council absolutely needs to focus on closing that affordability gap,” he said.

McGregor said more incentives for developers to build affordable housing will help.

He also addressed general accessibility issues – particularly as he’s been door knocking around Ward 1.

“I can tell you we have a lot of work to do. Sidewalks and pathways without curb cuts, or with poorly cut curb cuts are just not acceptable for a city that wants to be inclusive,” he said.

Ward 7 candidate Erin Waite said she’s drawn on her years in the non-profit sector.

“One thing is the learning about how many disabilities are invisible. And the important part of them is the importance of listening to lived experience,” she said.

“We’re all quick to talk about ramps and physical accessibility, but there are all kinds of other points of accessibility and issues. Those are so often left unconsidered.”

Inclusion in decision making

Candidates talked about not only keeping in mind the needs of disabled Calgarians, but how they could be involved in the decision-making.

“I will very much advocate for council decisions to have an equity, diversity and inclusion lens to all budget decisions on capital projects, including accessibility lens on that,” said Ward 1’s Sonya Sharp.  

“One thing that’s important as we move forward is making sure that we include the disability and disabled community at the table in city activities and initiatives.”

Ward 9 candidate Daymond Khan agreed.

“We need to apply an equity and inclusion lens. This way, we can make sure that we listen to those in the community to find out what their needs are before making any decision that impacts their lives,” he said.

Ward 11 candidate Geoffrey Vanderburg said he was taking a lot of notes during the forum, as he said he has a lot to learn about the challenges of disabled Calgarians.

“If I’m elected to city council, I promise to use that lens of equity, inclusion and fairness to help guide and make decisions, to help with budgeting, to help shape capital projects,” he said.

Affordable living

The question of the low-income transit pass and housing affordability came up with comments from several candidates.

Angela McIntyre in Ward 4 said not only should there be an emphasis on affordability and attainability, but access to wraparound services should be kept in mind.

“In order to create these affordable housing situations, we have to make sure that we’re setting up people for success,” she said.

Ward 8 candidate Courtney Walcott said when affordable housing is considered, stakeholders must take part in the process.

“Build it so that the people that need to help them the most are at the table when we are creating these structures,” he said.

Ward 9 candidate Tim Lipp suggested there’s a 15,000-unit shortage of affordable housing in Calgary.

“We need to ensure that accessibility needs are included in the affordable housing. And I know that there is a shortage for rentals, I know there’s a shortage of shortage for all kinds of accessible housing and that’s affordable,” he said.

Ward 11 candidate Lauren Herschel said there’s a lot of work yet to do providing a wide range of choice in accessible and affordable housing.

“Make sure that there is that choice and type of accommodations for people across the city regardless of where you are, what stage of life you’re in,” she said.

“And it seems I know in Ward 11 specifically, a lot of our neighbourhoods fall short on that.”

Fair Entry

Fair Entry is the city’s application process for the subsidization of Calgary programs and services. It’s meant to streamline the application process for several programs.

The Disability Lens provided by Disability Action Hall urged the city to continue funding this service. Some candidate mentioned it in their presentation.

Ward 9 incumbent candidate Gian-Carlo Carra said he’s been an advocate for the continued delivery of these programs in Calgary.

“I’m very proud of my record on city building – equitable city-building – transit infrastructure, and housing services like increased snow and ice funding for pedestrians and active modes; and social supports, like fare entry, the sliding scale, and the low-income transit pass,” he said.

Ward 9 challenger Daymond Khan said he saw firsthand the impact of the city’s Fair Entry program in his work with the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

“It made a big difference in the community,” he said.

Ward 1 candidate Sonya Sharp said the program needs to continue, but it would be worth evaluating it to ensure it still meets the needs of Calgarians.

“This program definitely needs to continue and we need to fund this program – and also re-evaluate where the program is and where it needs to be,” she said.

Ward 3 candidate Brent Trenholm said all of this comes down to listening and then taking the right action.

“To make things fair and equal, no matter who you are, and what you did, and that starts with listening. But listening is one thing, hearing is another one, and then taking action,” he said.

There is another session with candidates Aug. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m.