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Calgary restaurant’s accessible washroom draws praise from wheelchair user

Leese Westera recently dined at a newly renovated Swiss Chalet and was thrilled with the location’s improved accessibility


Proper accessibility can make all the difference for wheelchair users. // Shutterstock

What’s being described as a perfectly accessible washroom is drawing praise from a Calgary wheelchair user.

Leese Westera recently dined at the newly renovated Swiss Chalet location on 36 Street NE, and her experience was so positive, she took to social media to share it.

While Westera also enjoyed her meal that evening, she says her favourite part of the night was the accessible bathroom.

“Whoever designed it really thought about what a person in a wheelchair may require and they implemented it perfectly,” Westera wrote.

“It made my night!”

Attention to detail

Westera says the accessible washroom was private, had an automatic door, and plenty of space for her and her chair, with room to pivot safely.

Handrails were positioned in logical spots and there was a call button for emergencies.

There were even details that Westera says are often overlooked in accessible washrooms—enough room under the sink for her chair to fit, she could reach the soap and tap, and the mirror was low enough that she could see herself.

“I went to a wedding function once and I actually burst out laughing because the accessible bathroom did everything right, except the mirror was about six feet high,” Westera tells Calgary Citizen.

“Not a big deal. I was thrilled everything else was perfect. But it sure made me laugh.”

Health setbacks

Westera uses a wheelchair due to numerous health issues she has suffered over the years including kidney disease, an immune deficiency, and bronchiectasis.

“I became a wheelchair user after needing to be on high-dose prednisone for my lungs for quite a long time,” she says.

“This caused osteoporosis at a pretty young age, which caused so many spontaneous fractures in my back that the doctors wouldn’t count them and they couldn’t be treated surgically.”

Approximately four years ago, Westera was hospitalized for eight months, and was bedridden for the majority of that time.

“I gained 100 pounds from the steroids and being bedridden,” Westera says, adding she was eventually able to reduce her steroid dosage and was prescribed medication to strengthen her bones.

Westera fought hard to regain her strength to be able to return home rather than be transferred to a long-term care facility, which was the initial plan.

Westera says her power wheelchair has given her independence. // Submitted

A physical and emotional toll

The past few years have been physically and emotionally difficult for Westera as she tries to lose weight and fight off numerous infections due to her immune deficiency and lung disease.

“My lungs and body are not strong enough to propel a manual wheelchair, so I use a power chair,” Westera says, adding she is also on oxygen and can only walk very small distances.

Westera’s power chair has been a huge blessing and has given her independence. She describes it as being like an extended part of her body.

“My way of being able to function on my own. Not needing my husband to push me everywhere. Not needing nurses to do everything for me when I’m in hospital with infections,” she says.

“Being able to do things on my own is important to me… Every bit of independence is a huge thing.”

Feeling forgotten and unimportant

That’s why accessible bathrooms—and accessibility in all forms—are so important to Westera.

“Imagine being a grown woman, early 40s, and needing to ask your husband, or sometimes a stranger, to help you in the bathroom. When, really, if the bathroom had been made accessible, you could do it all yourself,” Westera says.

“It’s demoralizing. Dehumanizing. It makes me feel forgotten. Unimportant. Like I’m not viewed as a worthwhile part of society.”

Westera recalls a distressing incident with a public washroom at a medical facility where she was unable to close the door after getting her chair into the accessible stall.

“A complete stranger offered to guard the main bathroom door for me while I had to use the bathroom with the stall door open. It made me cry. I texted my husband in tears,” Westera says, adding she was very grateful to the woman who helped, but that it was embarrassing.

An everyday reminder

Five years ago, Westera never imagined she would get emotional over accessible bathrooms.

Admittedly, she didn’t give accessibility much thought until she became a wheelchair user.

“Now, every day I am reminded because most places are not as accessible as you’d think… Many sidewalks are difficult, many buildings are completely inaccessible—with a step or stairs and no way of getting inside. The majority of bathrooms are very difficult to maneuver in.”

Wetsera says that’s probably why it’s so exciting when one is planned out and easy to use.

“You feel like someone cared about you and others. That they put thought in. That you matter as much as everyone else.”

Praising places that get it right

Westera remembers the great accessible bathrooms because they are so rare and so appreciated.

Besides the one at Swiss Chalet, Westera also praises the accessible washrooms in the lobby of Calgary Marriott Downtown, Glenbow at The Edison, and in the McCaig Tower at Foothills Medical Centre.

She is optimistic about the future of accessible enhancements in Calgary thanks to these good examples.

“I think Calgary is really starting to pay attention to improving accessibility. This is exciting and wonderful and I look forward to seeing more and more places taking it into account,” Westera says.

“We are getting there. It takes time, I’m sure, but, even in the last few years, I’m noticing improvement.”

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