Living with a disability, newly elected Ward 5 councillor Sheri Roberts has to think about accessibility every day.
Now Roberts, who uses a wheelchair, wants to bring a bigger focus to making the community a place that everyone has the ability to enjoy.
“We live in a beautiful city surrounded by natural features like the river, hills and trails,” Roberts says.
“We have a rich heritage. I want our residents, regardless of age or any physical needs that they may have, to be able to enjoy all of our community whenever possible in a safe and inclusive way.”
While she has to think about accessibility on a daily basis, Roberts approached her campaign with a broader sense of inclusion. It’s a perspective she will bring to council and hopes the city embraces, as well.
“I believe that rather than accessibility being a separate issue, every decision made by council should be done through the lens of inclusion,” she says.
“From procurement to development, to the creation of programs and services, the City of Cambridge should be making decisions with the well-being of all residents in mind, including those who require accessibility.”
Making the city more accessible certainly comes at a financial cost, from trails, parks and building upgrades, it all must be considered in the budgeting process. It’s a cost that is well worth it and will actually be less expensive in the long run, Roberts says.
“From a financial standpoint, it's always less expensive to do things right the first time rather than having to come back and make changes later,” she says.
“From the start, including universal design that allows for all residents to have access to the built environment, makes sense for the community and the budget. When the city is building new or upgrading any of these areas, the planning should include features that will benefit the greatest number of residents including folks with disabilities, seniors, parents with strollers or anyone who might find some of the barriers in our parks and trails problematic.”
It appears as though residents of the city of Cambridge and the region have taken steps to diversify the voices that make these decisions.
Chantal Huinink became the first person living with a disability to be elected to regional council.
Colleen James made history Monday, as well, becoming the first Black woman elected to regional council.
With councils representing a diverse group of people in the community, having diversity among those elected is critical, Roberts says.
“City council is responsible for making decisions that affect the entire community, therefore, the diversity of members of council should be reflective of the diversity found in its residents,” she said.
“Having council members with different life experiences is important to ensure that all residents are represented around the horseshoe.”
Roberts knows there will be tough decisions to make in the four years to come and she won’t be able to please everyone, but wants to be known as a councillor with a resident-first mindset.
“Our community is full of people with a wealth of knowledge, through education, vocation and lived experience. Utilizing resident-led advisory committees effectively within the decision-making process will allow council to gain perspectives outside the scope of their own experiences,” she said.
“I will make those decisions with the concerns of residents in mind and to benefit our community as a whole.”