‘It isn’t an accessible city’: Advocates call for better supports in Fredericton

After entering the shared washroom of Vanier Hall, Renelle Belliveau finds all the showers open except for the only one she can use – the accessible one.

This is normal for Belliveau, who has been in a wheelchair since she was 14 years old.

“It’s accessible but it’s not practical at all,” she said.

Now in her fourth year at St. Thomas University, Belliveau has had to worry about much more than her classmates when it comes to getting to class or meal hall on uneven and often bumpy campus sidewalks, doing laundry and using accessible bathrooms.

“In the mall, there’s not enough space in certain stores for a wheelchair to move around,” she said. “And the ramps are very steep, so I could never go to the mall by myself because I wouldn’t be able to get up the ramp.”

Belliveau said Fredericton should be investing money to make public spaces such as schools and businesses more accessible. To make public transportation accessible, buses were given ramps and dedicated spaces for mobility devices starting in 2020.

Belliveau appreciates having the option to take the bus but believes still more infrastructure work can be done in the city.

Haley Flaro, executive director of Ability New Brunswick, said accessibility is often a low priority in Fredericton.

“We would have liked to have seen multiple accessible entrances in the design [of Officers’ Square] and, unfortunately, that’s not going to be included,” she said.

Flaro said increased awareness and education are needed not only for the social impacts but also for the economic benefits of good community design, which includes more accessible transportation, washrooms, entrances, ramps and sidewalks.

Flaro noted how the downtown’s aging infrastructure allows for few accessible restaurants, perhaps discouraging tourists with disabilities from visiting.

“It’s a wonderful city with some good accessible features, but it certainly isn’t an accessible city,” she said.

This article was published in partnership with the Local Reporting, Global Media class at St. Thomas University and The Aquinian, St. Thomas University’s official student publication.