Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday July 22, 2019.

Do you remember what you were doing on the morning of May 16th at 7.45 or so? Todd Harding does. He was walking downtown to his work with his guide dog, Luke. The pair stopped on the sidewalk near the intersection of Columbia and 5th Avenue, waiting for the voice prompt before crossing. Harding is blind, therefore he never crosses before making sure it is safe to do so. Plus, Luke is an experienced guide dog and has so far done a stellar job at taking his owner safely to where he needs to go.

With all the safety measures in place, they started crossing, but only got halfway across the street. A car turning right from Columbia onto 5th hit both. Harding’s hip was hit hard; he suffered an injured knee and a cracked heel bone and one of Luke’s paws got multiple lacerations and stretched ligaments.

It’s almost the end of July and they are still healing, Harding says. Luke is now working part-time, after being off work for two months due to his injuries. Fortunately, the cost of the treatment, roughly two thousand dollars, has been supported by the Guide Dog Centre.

Unfortunately, this is déjà vu for Harding, who was first hit three and a half years ago by another right turning car while crossing north at Seymour and 4th Avenue. Back then he had another guide dog named Samson. Then too, Harding waited for the audible crossing signal, making sure it is safe to cross.

Could anything like this happen again in the future? There are no guarantees, of course, but Harding is determined to reduce the risk as much as he can. He will wear a bright red harness, and Luke will have a blinking light, he says. Past that, he is hoping that drivers will remember to always do a proper right shoulder check before turning right and check the intersection thoroughly before driving through.

If you happen to know Todd Harding, you know of his advocacy work for people with disabilities in Kamloops. Having served for over two decades as part of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities (and committee chair for 10 years), Harding was instrumental in advocating for multiple audible pedestrian crossings in Kamloops.

Being blind for over four decades has not stopped Harding from being active and enjoying life to the fullest. Getting to know him has been both uplifting and humbling. Have you ever tried walking with your eyes fully shut? I did. I bumped into everything. I had my sister guiding me once; it was easier but the eerie feeling of loss of control was still present. That was the humbling part.

The uplifting part is the hard work that Todd has put into helping local people living with disabilities live more fulfilling and independent lives. Over the years, he got reminded more than once that not everyone aims for the same; in fact, some people downright refuse service on that basis. Hard to imagine and yet…

The story that unfolded just last week in our community was a sad reminder of both ignorance and, shall we say, unkindness. Ben Fulton, a law student from Ontario who stopped for coffee at a gas station in Kamloops found himself with a combined serving of both instead of the cup of coffee he was after. The employee and Fulton got into a heated argument as the latter was told that his guide dog was not allowed inside the store. By law, guide dogs are allowed everywhere. They are not just dogs but working dogs with big jobs to do. Fulton tried to explain that but to no avail.

The employee called the police, who came to assess the situation and… promptly handcuffed Fulton and arrested him for mischief. Shocked? Many were, Harding included. Fulton was later released but that is hardly making for a better ending, unless this unfortunate incident prompts businesses around town to review the way they interact with people with disabilities. Let’s hope they will.

Having a dog present at all times is not a whim, but a necessity. Refusing to allow guide dogs into a store, (or a cab, which unfortunately happened in Kamloops too) is akin to refusing to let anyone in the store, period. What’s more important, it’s against the law.

As for traveling safely across town, that should not be an issue. Being unable to see should not make someone invisible. On the contrary. A community defines itself by how it cares for each and every one of its members, especially when vulnerabilities are present. It is high time we each do our part in creating a definition for Kamloops that includes all of that. Please do your part – drive with care.