Now, bound by a wheelchair, she’s got a different perspective of the town.
When asked by the Beacon if she thought that Gander was inclusive to those with mobility issues, Thoms spoke bluntly.
“The town tries to include everyone. There’s so much money put into things that, to me, aren’t really helpful to people,” she said.
Thoms’ main concern is with accessibility in town, specifically with Gander’s Town Square.
“Just recently, I had to go down to one of the businesses. Right off the bat, I noticed that where you park you kind of have to maneuver just to get to the sidewalk,” said Thoms. “The part that is supposed to be cut out is not in good shape.”
At one point, Thoms said her wheelchair got stuck as a result of the crumbling sidewalk.
Thoms said that she was lucky to have help with her, but she noted that seniors or someone pushing a stroller might have an issue.
“It’s treacherous. It was just the most unsafe thing,” said Thoms.
Thoms noted that there are a number of businesses in Town Square that are extremely difficult to navigate.
It’s not just the sidewalks; Thoms pointed out that parking lots across town pose issues.
“I mean, people know how bumpy it is in a car. Imagine going over in a wheelchair,” she said.
Thoms explained that she’s been in a wheelchair for about three years, although she can stand for short periods of time. Over the past few years, she has almost exclusively left the house for medical appointments only.
As her health has improved, she’s begun to go out into town more, which has been an eye-opening experience.
“You don’t notice things until you’re in that situation,” she said.
A survey of businesses
The Beacon surveyed five businesses in Gander to see if they were accessible to those with mobility needs.
All but one was located in Town Square.
The checklist included three questions:
1) Is the entrance to the business easily accessible, either by ramp or slope?
2) Does the business have an automatic door?
3) Is there an accessible washroom?
All of the businesses surveyed had a wheelchair-accessible washroom.
However, two did not have an easily accessible entrance and only one business has an automatic door button.
Thoms originally aired her experiences in a business article that ran in the Beacon discussing complaints filed with the Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Roughly 40 per cent of complaints filed were disability-related and related to employment.
“Whoever’s going to get a job there if you can’t even get in the front door?” said Thoms.
To date, Thoms has not filed a complaint but she would like things to change.
Speaking to Garry Brown, Gander’s director of finance, the sidewalks in front of businesses in Town Square are the responsibility of the respective business owners.
The Town of Gander assumes responsibility for maintaining parking lots.
Brown also noted that all buildings are governed by provincial accessibility standards, but if there is any immediate safety issue, the town can step in.
In some cases, older buildings can apply for the building accessibility exemption registration, issued for structures that are not required to meet the Buildings Accessibility Act.
The Beacon sought out comment from ServiceNL, which is responsible for overseeing accessibility, but did not receive a response in time for this article.