Katie Bellehumeur beamed as two classmates manoeuvred her wheelchair up the small wooden ramp into Bitter Bill's Ice Cream Parlour in Val Caron. She then enjoyed some ice cream with help from an educational assistant.
The Grade 7 student at École élémentaire catholique Jean-Paul II was the first person to use the ramp at Bitter Bill's, built thanks to the non-profit community group Access2all.
The group aims to eliminate barriers by providing businesses and stores with portable access ramps built through community collaboration.
The ramps installed Tuesday at Bitter Bill's as well as at Chico's Bowl and Sports Lounge in Hanmer were constructed by instructors and students with Cambrian College's carpentry program.
Materials were donated by Rona. They were painted by Jean-Paul II students, who also did an audit of businesses in the Valley area to see where ramps are needed.
So far, 37 wooden ramps have been installed around Greater Sudbury.
Access2all founders Daniel Lebrun and Nadine Law began working on the ramp project a year ago through an organization called Stop Gap, but eventually set up their own local organization with the same aim.
Lebrun, who uses an electric wheelchair, estimates about three-quarters of local businesses aren't accessible.
“People are starting to find out that these single-step storefronts are very frustrating,” he said.
This is true not just for those using wheelchairs or other mobility aids, but even for parents using strollers or workers making deliveries, Lebrun added.
“Just having a simple thing like a wooden ramp and making it accessible, it's just great for everybody in the community,” he said.
Bitter Bill's owner Bill Cole said receiving the ramp is “fantastic.” He said he'd been thinking about building something himself to make his store more accessible before he was approached by Access2all.
“It's been something in the back of my mind that's been bothering me for many years,” adding the strip mall where his business is located was built in 1979, before accessibility was a consideration.
Cole said he remembers one incident where a man in a wheelchair waited outside while his girlfriend ordered ice cream because his store wasn't accessible.
With 18 special needs students at the school, Jean-Paul II principal Andre Paquette said accessibility is close to his students' hearts.
The school's Grade 7 and 8 leadership group, Val Coeur On, took on the ramp project.
“I am very proud of each and every one of my students for recognizing the importance of accessibility to all,” Paquette said. “They see it every day in our school.”
Cambrian College spokesperson Dan Lessard was on hand Tuesday to witness the installation of the ramp built by the college's students.
“We're really excited to be part of it,” he said. “Not only do we want to teach those kids job skills, but equally important are life skills, and one of those life skills is community service.”
Nickel Belt MP Marc Serre was also on hand for the occasion.
“Having worked in the not for profit and disability sectors I feel very strongly that it is imperative to create an accessible environment for all," he said, in a press release.
"I would like to commend Dan and Nadine for founding Access2all, it is an incredible initiative. Many thanks to the Students at École élémentaire Jean-Paul II, Carpenters Local 2486, Cambrian College and all the volunteers who do their part to eliminate accessibility barriers and contribute to a better quality of life for those who face limited access on a daily basis. This is a fine example of collaboration at its best!”