It’s just five steps.
Just a leap and a bound for a teenager. Or just a short climb hardly worth thinking about for an able-bodied adult.
But it’s a steep ascent on concrete for 67-year-old Joyce Stewart.
With one hand holding her walker and the other gripping the steel railing, Stewart makes a slow, teetering climb up the entrance way to the Cedar Place apartments at 329 Cedar St.
“All I want is a ramp…build me a ramp and I’ll be satisfied,” she says, back inside her tidy two-bedroom apartment.
Stewart is proudly independent and has lived in her apartment since 1999. But she suffers from osteoarthritis and a partial club foot which limits her mobility.
She still enjoys walking and exercises with light weights, but her mobility – especially going up and down stairs – isn’t likely to improve. And that’s why she asked the landlord for the ramp.
“He refused – told me it was too expensive,” she says.
Phone calls to landlord Alan Oakley were not returned prior to the Mirror’s deadline and he’s under no obligation to build a ramp.
There’s no municipal bylaw or provincial requirement for him to do so. The three-storey apartment is an older building, but appears well-maintained and was built to code back in the day; new rental units are required to offer accessibility for people with disabilities.
Cedar Place is not unlike many older apartment complexes in the city that have nothing but stairs, and that’s becoming a concern, especially with an aging population.
“We can write a letter to the landlord…and we’re considering making a recommendation to the mayor and council,” says Judy Ridgway, a member of the Campbell River Access Awareness Committee.
But the committee has no power to enact change. They can only advise and advocate on behalf of people with disabilities.
While there is no municipal bylaw to provide accessibility to older rental complexes, Mayor Charlie Cornfield did sign a proclamation last year to promote Access Awareness Day which reads, in part:
“Access is about removing structural barriers to participation both in physical accessibility…and about inclusion…”
Advocacy is also one of the roles of the Island Jade Society whose motto is “Helping those in crisis, on North Vancouver Island.”
Executive director Sian Thompson says Island Jade can certainly support Stewart’s request for a ramp, but there are other issues to consider.
“Joyce’s building is not strata…and the problem becomes one of liability for the landlord in addition to cost,” says Thompson. “By altering a structural feature of the property the landlord would become responsible for maintaining it and if anyone was injured the landlord would be liable.”
The obvious remedy is for Stewart to move, but to do so would result in her paying a few hundred dollars more a month for a similar two-bedroom apartment. She can’t afford to do that on a fixed income and doesn’t want to move from a home she thoroughly enjoys.
“I know every nook and cranny in here, and I’m happy,” says Stewart, who points out that a ramp would also assist the young mothers in the 16-unit complex who are pushing baby strollers or other seniors looking for a nice place to rent.
“It’s not just for me,” she adds.
But her sense of frustration is growing as she runs out of options. Stewart has a page-long list of politicians, community service organizations and public agencies she’s contacted, but none have offered any help.
She also began filling out an application from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation which offers financial assistance for renovations which improve accessibility. However, she says, the landlord declined to fill out his portion of the application, so it remains in limbo.
Stewart finds it difficult to accept that nothing can be done and this comes from someone who has volunteered at the Women’s Centre, Ann Elmore Transition House and the public art gallery. She’s also filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Commission, but it’s still undecided if they will even hear her complaint.
“I stand up for myself…and I won’t move. I’m fighting for my rights,” she says. “Just build me a ramp. How much can it cost?”