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People to see, places to go

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‘READY to roll, Nick?" calls the bus driver over his shoulder as Ternette parks his wheelchair in the disabled spot.

Ternette, a vocal critic of the city's mediocre bus system and lack of rapid transit, says the bus service has also proven to be his saviour.

He rarely uses Handi-Transit; it takes too long. Instead he gets around West Broadway and Spence Street on modern, low-floor buses with flip-down ramps. The drivers know him, and he's often spotted waiting for the bus on Portage Avenue, Arlington Street or Broadway.

"I've had people give me five bucks!" said Ternette. "They thought I was homeless. I'm waiting for a bus!"

Less impressive for wheelchair-bound people like Ternette is the quality of the city's sidewalks. In summer, cracks give way to huge potholes. In winter, snow-clearing is too slow and haphazard. Compacted ruts form, making it tough going for wheelchairs.

"Snow plowing around bus stops is the sh--s," said Ternette.

He's not worried about getting stuck -- someone always comes to his rescue with a push. He's worried about tipping over.

Ternette once flipped over on Portage Avenue. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt, luckily. He'd have been badly hurt if he'd been strapped in.

In the winter, Ternette often gives up and rides on the roads.

"I've only been hit once," said Ternette. "He apologized like hell. It was partly my fault. I cut in."

Still, Ternette has eyeballed with envy Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia MP Steven Fletcher's wheelchair and its fat snow tires.

"I don't stay home in the wintertime. I'm not somebody who is simply accepting the fact that I can't get around," said Ternette, whose wheelchair technician was shocked by how rusty his chair had become in one year. "I think I stayed home one or two days last winter, that's it, when the storms came. I was out either shopping, going to a movie or to a meeting, whatever else."

Ternette loves breakfast and eats out often -- he blows into the Tallest Poppy like he owns the place -- but his options are limited by what's accessible.

Even walking a couple of blocks down Portage Avenue, it was remarkable how many stores and offices had large wheelchair-defeating steps at their front doors. Ironically, a doctor's office wasn't wheelchair accessible but the Money Mart was.

When the new Stella's café on Sherbrook Street first opened, Ternette gave the owners heck when it wasn't wheelchair-accessible, forcing Ternette and his wife to enter through the kitchen.

"It makes us look second-class," he said.

Since then, the patio at Stella's has opened and that door accommodates wheelchairs.

Ternette would love to try the Black Sheep diner and the Free Press News Café but neither are wheelchair-accessible.

"Someone would have to carry me in."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca joe.bryksa@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2011 J5

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