A years-long case with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal will finally be coming to an end as the City of Maple Ridge and Maria Kovacs’ lawyer will be making their closing statements on Jan. 24.
This complaint, which first made its way to the tribunal in 2018, stems from Kovacs’ claim that as a blind person, she is no longer able to safely navigate her own neighbourhood due to the recent additions of traffic circles and bike lanes in Maple Ridge without adequate accessibility features.
“When I came here from Burnaby looking for a more accessible place, Maple Ridge suited me at the time. But now, it’s turned my life into a nightmare,” said Kovacs.
According to court documents, Kovacs’ complaint specifically addresses three areas throughout Maple Ridge that have dramatically changed since 2010 and no longer provide sufficient aid to visually impaired residents.
One of them is a roundabout with a street-level sidewalk that is only separated from the road by a white line and lacks any sort of physical markers or tactile directional signals.
Kovacs also has issues with bike lanes at two other intersections where these lanes come dangerously close to bus stops and do not have proper physical indicators letting visually impaired people know where the bike lane is.
This has majorly disrupted Kovacs’ life as someone who used to pride herself on her ability to safely navigate the city by herself with the help of a cane or guide dog. She now says that navigating these areas on her own has become too dangerous, citing multiple instances where cyclists almost hit her and her dog.
“Maple Ridge is full of these dangerous places,” said Kovacs. “How do you find a painted line with a cane? And dogs don’t know how to navigate these things.”
Kovacs said that she ran into several issues when trying to deal with the Municipal Advisory Committee on Accessibility and Inclusiveness (MACAI), which is the city committee tasked with removing social, physical, and psychological barriers in the community.
“There’s not one disabled person on the committee,” said Kovacs. “They say that Maple Ridge is accessible to all, but it’s not. They don’t understand that someone with very little eyesight has different needs from someone like me who is completely blind. Putting paint on the ground doesn’t help me at all.”
At the beginning of 2021, Kovacs said she offered to drop the complaint if the city would pay for a professor and leading expert in blindness and low-vision studies to come in and teach them about how to make the city properly accessible for visually impaired individuals.
However, she said the city refused to pay the $10,000 to do this, so she continued to pursue her case.
With the 2022 municipal election bringing in an almost entirely new council, Kovacs has some hope that this new city council will be more willing to work with her on this ongoing issue.
“I am counting on this new council to achieve what I’m trying to do,” she said.
The closing arguments in the Maria Kovacs v. District of Maple Ridge case will be made on Tuesday, Jan. 24.
The News reached out to the City of Maple Ridge, but they declined to comment.
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