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All-terrain accessibility in Pictou County

Pictured: L-R Leighanne MacDonald, Sally O’Niell, Charity Johnstone, and Devin Forbes. Johnstone was the first person in Pictou County to test out the brand new Hippocampe all-terrain wheelchair.
Pictured: L-R Leighanne MacDonald, Sally O’Niell, Charity Johnstone, and Devin Forbes. Johnstone was the first person in Pictou County to test out the brand new Hippocampe all-terrain wheelchair. - Brendan Ahern

The Hippocampe has arrived.

“It’s going to change people’s lives,” says Julie Dignan, manager of the life enhancement building at Summer Street Industries. She’s watching as Cherity Johnstone test out Pictou County’s new all-terrain wheelchair. “This opens up our whole community for wheel-chair users.”

Going for walks along New Glasgow’s river-side trails, or through places like Trenton Park are luxuries afforded primarily to the able-bodied, and taking advantage of Canada’s Ocean playground is considerably more challenging for wheel-chair users.

"There are lots of people in our community who lack access to these nature areas that have tougher terrain for a traditional wheel chair," said Active Pictou County coordinator, Sally O'Niell. The Hippocampe, which arrived a few weeks ago, is youth sized model. 

The Hippocampe costs $5,000 and was purchased with support from the NS department of Communities, Culture and Heritage’s Facility Access Program.

The purchase puts Pictou on a list with other counties that have invested in increased outdoor accessibility.

The Antigonish Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) regularly borrows one of the two Hippocamps currently being offered by the Antigonish County municipality.

“That partnership has been quite successful, so we had a model to look at,” said O’Niell. “We have these nice trails and beaches, and I just felt that it was a good piece of equipment to add to our lending library.”

She’s not the only one.

“When I first had my accident, accessibility in Pictou County was very minimal,” said Devin Forbes who, on his 18th birthday, was in a car accident which too away the use of his legs. “We have been getting a bit better. Especially with devices like the Hippocampe. It all comes into play and helps the community feel a little bit more accessible to everybody.”

At 44, Forbes is the chair of the Let Abilities Work Partnership, a volunteer, non-profit society that provides opportunities of all sorts to persons with disabilities.

“We put on picnics, fishing excursions, archery and all kinds of different events,” said Forbes. “We need to be active. Anybody, whether your able-bodied or not, you need to be active and socializing. It’s not just the physical, but the mental side too that people need.”

With the 2030 goal of an accessible Nova Scotia legislated into Bill 59 back in April 2017, acquiring the Hippocampe in Pictou county is a reminder of the work ahead in designing buildings, roads, walk-ways, nature trails and shorelines in ways that are accessible to all citizens.

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