Power Surge Technologies Ltd. in Hay River has won the Accessibility Benefits Everyone Award from the NWT Human Right Commission in Yellowknife for making shopping easier for all people, including those with disabilities.
“The award isn’t why we do it,” said owner Brian Lefebvre. “But it certainly gives me an understanding and an appreciation of the challenges faced by people with disabilities in their everyday lives.”
The NWT Human Rights Commission recognizes individuals, businesses and organizations, be they commercial or public, for their efforts towards granting equal access to all in their buildings and services. When Power Surge Technologies Ltd. outgrew its former location in 2009, Lefebvre not only decided to construct a new building from scratch, he had accessibility features incorporated into the design from the very beginning. For instance, there is a maximum steepness allowed for ramps from sidewalks into commercial buildings and the foundations of the current building were poured based on that limit.
“At the old location, we recognized that we had accessibility issues where we had a lot of product and not enough space,” Lefebvre said. “We had discussions about it and we decided to make things easier for people in wheelchairs, but also for moms with strollers and seniors, too.”
Apart from the ramp from the sidewalk to the front entrance of the store, Power Surge Technologies Ltd. also has wider aisles than most businesses and a policy against stacking merchandize higher than five feet on freestanding shelves. Lefebvre explained that the natural inclination for retailers is to pack their floor space with as many shelves as possible and stack them high with product, but he made a conscious decision to take another route and make his store more open and inviting to all customers.
“Typically when you walk into stores with eight-foot shelves, even people walking can’t reach a lot of the merchandize,” he said. “You can imagine how much worse it is from a wheelchair.”
Lillian Crook, president of the Committee for People with Disabilities in Hay River, nominated Lefebvre’s store for the award after he approached the committee from the outset looking for input.
“We’ve approached several businesses in Hay River and almost no one has bothered to put ramps in or keep aisles open and clean,” she told The Hub. “At a lot of places, (people in wheelchairs) can get in, but not independently.”
Crook noted the committee has asked the Town of Hay River to improve access to businesses on Courtoreille Street on several occasions, but she remains unsatisfied with the results.
“There are a few things around town that would take an afternoon to fix, and it would make a world of difference,” she said.
Charles Dent, chair of the NWT Human Rights Commission, said that, while a majority of businesses in the NWT remain largely inaccessible to people with disabilities, awareness of the problem is growing.
“Everyone should have equal rights, but, if not, they can’t access the same spaces, then we don’t have equal rights yet,” he said.
For Lefebvre, better access was a question of independence, but also good business practice.
The business owner explained that, while making sure there were no obstructions in the aisles and that his store felt open and spacious was important to customers with disabilities, it also creates a more pleasant atmosphere for all who stroll through the doors.
Customers with disabilities just want to be treated like anyone else, he said. “Having both the store itself and the merchandize more accessible to them means they have more independence and don’t have to ask for help, and that’s pretty important.”
— Sarah Ladik