The brazen theft of a wheel chair accessibility ramp in Caledon has jeopardized the operations of a centre for adults with special needs.
“I’m sick to my stomach,” Susan Mollica tells CityNews after thieves made off with the portable metal ramp from the White Birch Special Needs Day Program centre in Palgrave, Ont.
“My son requires the ramp to get in and out of the program. Individuals that even aren’t in wheelchairs require the ramp because they aren’t able to do stairs,” she said.
The program serves adults with developmental and cognitive disabilities in Peel Region and Dufferin County. Its one of a handful of centres that offers exceptional individuals activities and tasks to help them continue to grow intellectually and physically.
Susan’s 27-year-old son Christopher has been participating in the program since it started three years ago.
“It gives his life meaning and purpose,” she says adding that without a ramp her son wouldn’t be able to even enter the building located on Highway 50, just north of Bolton.
Repairs to the main ramp necessitated the use of the portable metal ramp for a few days. The six-foot-long ramp with a black, rough substance for some grip had been set up Monday night but by Tuesday morning, it was gone.
“I’m not going to lie, we took it for granted that we are in a small town and we had it set up out there because we wanted to make sure that it was ready for when the first wheelchairs got here,” White Birch owner Carlo Summaria says of the ramp that wasn’t locked down. “I’m surprised that it would go missing from here. I don’t know why somebody would need it.”
The mobile ramp was often folded and packed up for the centre’s off-site excursions.
“We’re out in the country and sometimes apple orchards or barns and farms that we visit don’t have steps,” Summaria explains.
Staff searched all around the remote property, but when they couldn’t find the ramp, they put up a banner asking for the return of their stolen ramp.
“We were hoping we could guilt or convince the person who took it to bring it back to the property,” Summaria adds.
It didn’t work and the $1,200 ramp remains missing.
“It affected everyone here in so many ways because its their accessibility to a program that gives their life meaning, gives them access to life and the freedom to be young adults,” Mollica explains.
White Birch set up a GoFundMe account in hopes the community could help them raise the needed funds for a new one. Caledon and the surrounding area stepped up, raising enough funds for a new ramp in just a few days with some extra money left over that Summaria says will be used to make other parts of the former school house accessible for students in wheelchairs.
“We just want everybody to have access to as much as they can,” he said.