The Ottawa Abilities Centre will have the same structure as the flagship centre in Whitby. Courtesy of Abilities Centre, Emily Glossop

Abilities Centre aims for accessibility, inclusivity

By Brandi Awad

Team Canada athletes, Emily Glossop of Canada’s para-alpine ski team and Todd Nicholson, a Paralympic sledge hockey champion, have their sights set on a new, state-of-the-art fitness and recreation facility in the core of downtown Ottawa.

The proposed Lebreton Flats athletic complex, which would be the first of its kind in the city, would be called the Abilities Centre.

Complete with the newest technology and latest equipment, the Abilities Centre would break down everyday barriers for individuals who face accessibility issues in the nation’s capital.

However, its promoters insist, the centre would be a place for everyone.

“It’s for all ages and all abilities,” Glossop said, who sits as the chairperson for the Abilities Centre Ottawa.

“My vision is that we are successful in the build of the Abilities Centre and that all individuals in the national capital region and surrounding regions feel welcome and feel like this is a place for them to come participate, play, learn, and train,” she said.

“The goal is to have this facility in Ottawa, but it’s also to be a representation to the rest of the community and the rest of the world in terms of being inclusive and being accepting, and really creating an environment where everyone is welcome and everyone is valued.”

From its downtown location to its adjustable equipment and its all-inclusive spin classes, the Abilities Centre is envisioned with complete accessibility in mind.

The blueprint for this proposed facility is the Abilities Centre in Whitby, Ont., which was founded by the late Jim Flaherty – former federal Conservative finance minister – and his wife Christine Elliot, a former Ontario MPP and now Ontario’s patient ombudsman.

Under the RendezVous LeBreton plan – the proposed development which has won the initial approval of the National Capital Commission – the Abilities Centre would be a two-story complex on top of the planned Sensplex, a community multi-pad arena with two NHL-sized rinks.

Ryan Armitage, a fitness manager and personal trainer at the Jewish Community Centre, who has been training physically challenged adults for the past eight years, said he was thrilled to hear about the proposed centre.

“One of the things that I’ve tried to push with my training is that a lot of places need to be more inclusive of everybody,” he said. “So I think if we can have something like a centre that is a hallmark for able-bodied and disabled people working together, that would be great.”

He added: “Everywhere should have accessibility for everybody, so if we could have something that represents that – especially in our nations capital – hopefully that’ll be something that’ll progress throughout the rest of the country.”

Aside from fitness, the Abilities Centre would have three other streams of service including arts, music, culture and drama; life development; and research and innovation

Steve Suttie, whose son Matt lives with cerebral palsy, said he has been waiting to see a facility like this for quite some time.

“I think the idea is great,” said the Manotick resident. “Having an all-inclusive facility is a step in the right direction. The more we can integrate people with challenges with able-bodied people encourages acceptance and awareness – that everyone belongs. Ideally this can and should be the new normal.”

What started off as a way for Glossop and Nicholson to give back to their community has turned into something much bigger.

“It might have started out a number of years ago as a tiny little dream for one person, but this has actually become a community initiative,” Glossop said. “This is not just mine, or Todd’s, or our project, this is the community coming together to build something together.”

If all goes well with the proposed development, Glossop and Nicholson look forward to opening the centre as early as 2021.