By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE — Councillor Lenny Tiller is spearheading the creation of a new committee dedicated to improving accessibility for residents and visitors. The idea for the committee came from watching the struggles his father faced while Tiller was growing up.
“He has been in a wheelchair since I was three, and you don’t really understand it when you’re three, but as you start to get older you realize things aren’t normal,” said Tiller. “He can’t get into some businesses. There’s places he can’t go to, and it’s very cumbersome when you do take him somewhere. It takes longer. Even municipal infrastructure is not always accessible.”
The committee, which currently has just Tiller and his father as members, is not just aimed at individuals with mobility issues, but at people who have a wide range of accessibility requirements. Those with hearing or vision loss, a learning disability, or mental health struggles will also be taken into consideration.
“We all deserve a place to live freely and comfortably within our town. We’re all taxpayers. This is the place we call home. This is a place we love, and we all deserve to be treated equally and equitably within the Town of Stephenville and this is where we start,” said Tiller. “We can’t be a town that has a voice for the 98 per cent anymore with the 2 per cent left behind. We have to be the town that has a voice for 100 per cent of the people that live here and make sure we are doing everything in our best effort to make life comfortable, easy, and relaxing for every individual that lives in this town.”
The formation of the committee has been approved by council; however, there are numerous factors that still need to be ironed out before it becomes official.
“Everyone has been fully supportive right from day one, from the mayor to the town staff. I think they realize that we are in 2021 and this is a conversation we shouldn’t be having in terms of it should’ve already been done. Our town needs to be accessible and since it’s not we need to get the ball rolling and make it happen,” said Tiller. “The time is now to get these things rectified. It’s time now to have a structure in place that we can go through things in the town and make sure as a municipality we are doing what’s best, that we’re advocating to the provincial government, so they get on board with what’s best as well.”
Mayor Tom Rose believes the committee will make a difference.
“It’s a really good initiative because, in the community, we have so many deficiencies for people with disabilities and Lenny comes from a background of such knowledge. His dad is in a wheelchair, so he comes with a lot of experience around that field and we suggested he would lead the committee, so it is in the works,” said Rose. “Some of these committees take time. It takes volunteers and structure to get going, but I think Councillor Tiller is the right person for the job and I expect some positive outcomes.”
Tiller discovered that Corner Brook has a similar committee.
“I reached out to their Deputy Mayor Linda Chaisson, and she told me her story about how she felt the same way about Corner Brook,” said Tiller. “We took some of our framework from them, and some of the framework from a spot in Ontario that we could get some information on and build our own terms of reference around what it is that’s going to go to council for approval.”
The committee will advise council about making necessary changes in the most inclusive way possible, and that includes ensuring people with accessibility issues are at the forefront. Tiller says they have learned their lessons from past failures.
“We don’t go and ask the people who have to walk in these shoes every day. We never ask for their input,” said Tiller. “We go on a textbook definition and we ask these other groups that work with these people all the time to be the experts when really, we should go straight to the person themselves. So that’s why this committee is going to be structured in a way that the people who have to live this life every day are the main voice. It’s our main concern to have them there so we can learn from them.”
Ideally there will be a committee meeting once every two months, with extra meetings taking place as needed. Anyone who would like to become involved can contact Lenny Tiller at (709) 721-0860 or by email: email@example.com.
“If you feel that you have something to add and you feel like you’re not being heard, I want you to reach out and apply to be on this committee, come to our meetings, and have a voice. Everyone deserves to be heard.”