Like many people, Philippa Powers cares about our environment and wants to help take care of it by recycling.
“I’m just an earth muffin,” she chuckles. “I’m an environmental freak – if it can be returned, I’m right there.”
And like all people, Powers also wants to be treated with dignity and equality.
Afflicted with COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – the 66-year-old Whalley resident has trouble walking and relies on her mobility scooter to get around.
“On a really fantastic day I can walk three blocks.”
Monday was not a fantastic day.
Upon arriving at the Surrey Central Return-It recycling depot at 13845 104th Ave., she was barred from entering the building with her ride.
The sign posted on the door says:
ATTENTION NO BIKES DUE TO RISK OF INJURY TO OTHERS, AMONG OTHER THINGS, PLEASE LEAVE YOUR BIKES OUTSIDE.
“They wouldn’t allow me in with my mobility scooter,” Powers told the Now-Leader.
“They called it a bike and said that I would have to leave it outside and walk in, which I wasn’t capable of doing. So I was basically denied service there.
“I use it because I have great difficulty walking, and he says take it outside.”
“This is not a bike,” she says, stating the obvious. “I don’t even own a bicycle, for godsakes. I’m incapable of riding one.”
She said she ended up taking her recyclables back home, but not before declaring she’d be back with a newspaper reporter, a threat she made good on.
“People don’t realize how tough it is to get around on a scooter,” she explains. “They just don’t realize, and when it’s a hardship to get up and walk, to have someone basically stand there and say it’s a bicycle when it clearly is not, and in my mind denying me access to that facility.”
There are always two sides to every story. Daesung Choi, the owner, has been operating the depot for four years. He says he keeps a strict no-bikes policy because street people have left their bikes lying around willy-nilly at the depot and people have tripped over them.
“Inside it’s dangerous,” he says. “Outside is OK, I don’t care.”
Powers said she understands Choi doesn’t want people to get hurt on his premises “and I support that. I’m all for making Whalley a safer place, but just know the difference between a bike and a mobility scooter.”
Choi says he used to give street people bread and oranges at the depot, until a child tripped over a bike. Hence, the sign.
On Wednesday, they came to terms – kind of. Choi offered to collect her recyclables outside the door, take them into the depot for her and return with her money, whenever she comes by.
“I would go along with that, but I shouldn’t have to,” she replies.
“This is not a bicycle, I don’t lay it down anywhere, it’s a mobility scooter, I cannot walk around without it, and I feel that having to stand outside the door, well sit outside the door, like some poor relation, while somebody comes and gets it, is kind of demeaning.
“But, if that’s the only way to resolve it, I would agree to that so long as when I show up someone immediately comes and takes what I have and does whatever needs to be done with it. But I really find your attitude toward my mobility scooter very depressing,” she tells Choi.
In the end, smiles were exchanged but Powers left still feeling aggrieved.
“I did phone the Human Rights Tribunal and I am supposed to be able to have access, unless it is unsafe to me, to anywhere that somebody who is mobile can go, which means according to the Human Rights Tribunal, I am supposed to be able to enter. As long as I’m behaving, and putting my scooter against the thing and everything, I mean who’s going to trip over this? Only someone who can’t see.”
Choi says sorry, twice.
“Next time you call me, I help you.”
You can bet such dramas unfold in this city, and others, every day. For people with disabilities, it is no small thing.
“Maintaining my independence and being able to do my own stuff is really important to me,” Powers later tells the Now-Leader. “I don’t want to be dependent on services, and I can’t do that without my scooter. If I can’t get my scooter in somewhere with me, I can’t go.”
Will she pursue this matter through the Human Rights Tribunal?
“I don’t know,” she says, “I’m going to have to give it some serious thought. It’s an important issue, and it’s important for everyone who is in a wheelchair or a scooter. Maybe it’s just sort-of going to take one case to really help that, because until you ride one of these you really don’t know how unfriendly getting around in Surrey can be.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 16 provincial Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson will be in Surrey to host an “in-person” community meeting for people with disabilities, to discuss the development of accessibility legislation for B.C.
It will be held at the Civic Hotel, at 13475 Central Ave., from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. A government press release states that people with disabilities, their friends and families, accessibility advocates and self-advocates, organizations, experts, businesses and individuals – everyone, essentially – is encouraged to attend, “to help define what future legislation to make B.C. a more accessible and inclusive province could look like.”