It’s hoped the upcoming regional transit system in the County of Grande Prairie will be a benefit to people with spinal cord injuries living on First Nations reserves. Spinal Cord Injury Alberta’s Regional Program Coordinator Mieke de Groot says both distance and technology can be an issue right now.
“If I have a client that is Indigenous I can meet their needs. The challenge is that people who live on reserves or in settlement far away from Grande Prairie often lose touch with my agency because in the past there has not been good internet service so emailing has not been a way to keep in touch.”
SCI Alberta has the ability to connect people with spinal cord injuries and their families to others through webcams, but de Groot says that that has also had its challenges.
“Currently, we have virtual peer groups both for people with spinal cord injuries and their family members, but if somebody doesn’t have a good telephone program or a good computer system they can’t do that.”
While there are services available to people on reserves dealing with spinal cord injuries, they often need access to larger cities like Grande Prairie that have more resources. De Groot says that has often been a barrier for the people she meets because of poor regional accessible transit options.
“Somebody who’s on reserve, who requires mobility equipment such as wheelchairs, scooters and walkers may not find it as easy to get too and from services that will provide them with the support that they need outside of what their community can provide.”
Getting to and from the major cities can also be an issue in the first place. However, that could be helped by plans for a regional bus that would connect Sexsmith, Clairmont, Wembley, Beaverlodge, and Hythe with the City of Grande Prairie’s transit system.
“There are excellent service provisions where people live but then they become isolated because they aren’t able to get back and forth to their family,” de Groot explains. “For instance, I’ve got a cluster of six people living in La Crete but they don’t come from La Crete; they come from Paddle Prairie, Fox Lake, Rainbow Lake and they can’t go home.”
The provincial government has given the County of Grande Prairie a nearly $640,000 grant to start up the bus service. The first phase to Sexsmith and Clairmont should be running this fall.