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'It's just not helping:' Preston Idea Exchange renovations 'disappointing' to accessibility advocate

A ramp that was supposed to make the Preston Idea Exchange more accessible has advocates up in arms noting it could pose a hazard
The Preston Idea Exchange is under fire after recent renovations fail to meet the needs of the community

The $337,000 renovation to the exterior of the Preston Idea Exchange isn't sitting well with some of the very people it was designed to help. 

Devon Sisak is the chair of the Cambridge Accessibility Advisory Committee (CAAC) for the City of Cambridge and is calling the new upgrades to the Cambridge library "disappointing." 

"I feel like with the Idea Exchange, we got 80 per cent of the way there, but the last 20 per cent really hurts," Sisak said. 

According to the committee, they have noticed several problem areas with the recently completed work, including concrete that isn't level, raised ledges that create tripping hazards and a lack of accessible parking. 

Sisak who has a son who uses a wheelchair, tried to go to the Preston branch to check out the new accessible features and enjoy the library. He was shocked when he pulled into the lot and there were no accessible parking spots. 

"I mean I felt really disappointed when we showed up and there weren't even any parking spots for us," he said. "This is a clear violation of AODA standards." 

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) has been in place since 2005 with a goal of making every space in the province fully accessible by 2025. 

The act lays out ways for businesses and government buildings to become fully accessible and welcoming to all, including mandatory accessible parking spaces. 

Pavers were lifted to pour concrete for the new ramp but when they were put back, members of the CAAC noticed the concrete created a small lip that is difficult for wheelchairs to get over and could pose a tripping hazard. 

"It's (the ramp) horrible for mobility devices and the caster wheels on the front of wheelchairs can actually get caught and send the person falling out of their wheelchair," Sisak said. 

After noticing the hazard, the advisory committee contacted Idea Exchange CEO Chrissy Hodgins to explain what needed to be fixed. 

"I thought since construction was just completed they should be able to go to the contractor and say, 'Hey some of this is not up to par; what can we do about it," he said. "But when we reached out we were just met with push back so that is really disheartening." 

Hodgins said in an emailed response to CambridgeToday that she is aware of the complaints of the committee and welcomes any feedback from the group. 

"We confirmed that the project was completed in compliance with AODA and Integrated Accessibility Standards," Hodgins wrote. "We welcomed the committee to share any additional feedback for us to investigate further, and since our last correspondence, we have received none."

On the note of accessible parking spaces, the Idea Exchange maintains that during a recent regional parking study, they did not require the library to have any additional spots. 

Sisak said the committee did not have enough time to look at the plans for the Idea Exchange and when original plans were presented to the city and the committee, it was more robust and accommodating.

Funding issues prompted the library to scale back the changes, he said. 

Sisak notes they only had one day to look at the plans before the Idea Exchange went to the city. Since the library is technically its own entity, it is not bound to the same standards and practices as other city-owned facilities. 

"It gave me that same sinking feeling that many families get when you go there with this; it's gonna be great, we're gonna go see it attitude and then it just falls short," Sisak said. 

"That can be really defeating for someone, especially people with disabilities who have to put in that much more effort to get the same level of treatment and equality as everyone else."

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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