Mayor and council recognize efforts of accessibility advocate and Huntsville resident by Alison Brownlee
Debbie Kirwin has spent years advocating for accessibility in Huntsville. She sees the impending downtown redesign as a chance to make more improvements.
HUNTSVILLE It was the first flag presented by the mayor to a member of the public.
Huntsville mayor Scott Aitchison, during a town council meeting on March 25, presented accessibility advocate Debbie Kirwin with a Canadian flag retired from atop the Huntsville town hall clock tower.
“I, personally, have always been in awe at Deb,” said the mayor. “From the very first moment I met Deb 15 years ago, I knew that she was going to be a force to be reckoned with in this community. And she most certainly has been.”
Kirwin served tirelessly as the chair for the town’s accessibility advisory committee from 2006 to 2018.
Aitchison said the former chair’s committee role was “just the tip of the iceberg” when it came to her advocacy and policy development efforts in the community, region and province.
“Not only has she changed the attitudes and ideas about accessibility and the importance of accessibility in this community, but she has been a transformative voice on the issue of accessibility across Ontario.”
He noted Kirwin would likely focus on the work still left to be done.
“But on a day like today I want you to know that council and, certainly, all of Huntsville celebrate the tremendous progress that you have brought to Huntsville,” said Aitchison.
He thanked her for her years of service and presented her with the flag, a new gesture reserved for honoured citizens. Though the first flag went to former Coun. Det Schumacher, the flag Kirwin received was the first presented to a member of the public.
Kirwin said her position as chair had provided her with many opportunities to promote accessibility in Huntsville and beyond.
She noted that, when Huntsville first held the Ontario ParaSport Winter Games in 2006, the town was recognized for its accessibility initiatives.
“At that time, the initiative that stood out was the Yellow Ramp program and was instrumental in securing the Main Street Accessibility Award for the Town of Huntsville,” said Kirwin. “The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario continued to monitor the progress of accessibility in our town and it’s put Huntsville on the provincial map as a hot spot for accessibility.”
And she noted she had made many presentations throughout the province on the successes of the town’s accessibility advisory committee.
“I believe the icing on the cake was the relationship the (committee) developed with council and staff,” she said. “I want to thank this council, and the four preceding councils, and staff who have come and gone, and those who have hung in to work with us. Together, we have made Huntsville a better place to live.”
Kirwin has also served on the District of Muskoka accessibility advisory committee, the province’s accessibility standards advisory committee, and the 2006 and 2012 Ontario ParaSport Winter Games organizing committees.
Her advocacy areas of focus have included accessible transit and affordable housing, employment for people with disabilities, accessible public spaces and barrier-free community inclusion.
Alison Brownlee is the regional government and health-care reporter for muskokaregion.com. She also writes about people and issues across Muskoka. Reach her at: [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter and Facebook Email: [email protected]