If you asked how you could destroy a very successful recycling program that has been in operation in Greater Vernon for years in one pronouncement, the answer is the new blue box system. Not because people no longer support recycling, they resoundingly do, but because many will be unable to physically use the new blue boxes. Approximately 25 per cent of residents of this area are over 60 years old. Of this population it is estimated that about half have physical disabilities. This large number of seniors, along with others who have physical challenges, adds up to a lot of citizens who will be unable to use the new blue boxes.
The old blue bags, while not perfect, could be thrown down front steps and dragged behind a walker or someone using a cane to the sidewalk or road, or could be filled half way if too heavy and were flexible. Not so the boxes. They weigh about five pounds empty, are awkward to carry and are up to the knees of many older people. How will someone with a disability be able to lift them in the first place or carry the tall boxes down stairs without being able to see where they are going? These are accidents waiting to happen. Then we could talk about winter and icy driveways and paths. The blue bags slid over the ice and snow and again could be dragged without having to bend too far.
It is a very sad state of affairs that once again the people with disabilities are so disregarded and discarded by planners, government and others who should know better as most of us get to this state sooner or later. It is another example of the need for Accessibility Committees or Advisory Boards to have input in the planning before these serious gaffes occur. It seems we have to learn these lessons over and over again at the expense of taxpayers and the damaged feelings of those who are already challenged and cannot participate.
Unfortunately the City of Vernon has recently decided to cancel its Accessibility Committee due to finances and having too many committees that require administrative services. Those committees that have some commonalities have been merged and spaces set aside for two members who are familiar with disability issues to sit on the new Transportation Committee and City Planning Committee. This solution, while not perfect, will at least assure some input on accessibility issues.
Former Accessibility Committee members certainly understand the necessity of the city to cut back and conserve resources but also know the need for a concentrative effort to change awareness and resolve mobility issues for those who are most affected. So a new community Accessibility Committee is in the works and hopefully will continue to work on changing attitudes and be involved in new projects so they are accessible to all (such as the blue box program). This committee will also continue to work on removing barriers that prevent all citizens from their desired participation.
The blue box issue has really struck a chord with disabled seniors and other older seniors who are not disabled, but who simply don’t have the same strength any more, representing a large number of this community and no doubt will be an election issue in the next election. There is so much anger and frustration that this operation has been thrust upon us without debate or any modicum of thoughtfulness. And what effect will this have on the environment when so many people through no fault of their own cannot participate in recycling but have to throw everything in the garbage? Helping the environment by sorting and recycling has been a duty and privilege over the years. Now for many of us this opportunity is done, destroyed by the blue box.
Pat Black writes about issues concerning seniors in the North Okanagan. Her column appears every other Sunday.