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Making Halloween more accessible

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

As a father, Rich Padulo, founder of Treat Accessibly, knows all too well the struggles many parents face to make their kids happy.

So when he was putting pumpkins on his front steps one Halloween, he spoke to a young boy in a wheelchair on his street.

“It kind of punched me in the face that he wouldn’t be able to come to my front door, and trick or treat with me, and with his family,” says Padulo. “That’s why the next day I spoke to a friend who’s a creative director, and he made a brilliant sign, and we put it on our front lawn before Halloween.”

For Padulo and his family, Treat Accessibly began on his front lawn in Etobicoke as a way to make trick or treating more accessible.

“It started in 2017 with one sign on my front lawn, and we had about seven families visit us on that day,” he says. “That’s what really opened my eyes to kind of exploring it further.”

According to Padulo, those families wondered how they’d be able to do the same in the future.

In 2018, he made signs for other people in the area, printing about 150.

That’s when a friend at RE/MAX contacted him.

“[They said] ‘We’ll take 2,500, and we’ll have agents deliver them to their local communities,’” he explains.

As of 2019, there are 25,000 signs available through Treat Accessibility.

Twenty-thousand of these signs will be available at participating Home Depots across Canada for free.

“RE/MAX prints them all for us, and it’s helping us champion the cause,” he says.

He’s hoping to expand his efforts next year, with plans on reaching down into the United States.

“In Canada, we have 400,000 youth and kids with accessibility issues who may not be enjoying Halloween with their friends, and that’s really the core of the issue,” he says. “It’s them being dislocated from the experience that every kid should be able to enjoy, and what usually blurs the lines of culture and values… We’re hoping to bring kind of a hack of a Halloween to create more awareness for the obstacles that members of our community face.”

Padulo says being a father changes a person’s mindset.

“I have one daughter, and stepping further back, I’ve always had a soft spot for helping children and families,” he says.

He is also a founding board member of Drug Free Kids Canada, and he’s been privy to sad stories, and great stories.

“It’s tough to create change at a macro level, and being involved with programs that support kids for most of my adult life, I’ve been able to kind of see how to make things work, and it was from the learning that I gathered from Drug Free Kids Canada, and putting [that] program into market that I was able to develop this program and get it spread nationally so quickly, with great organizations that were able to support us,” he explains.

Susan Taylor, who works for RE/MAX in Oshawa, is a strong supporter of Treat Accessibly.

“[Padulo] clued in to the fact that kids take for granted that when they go trick or treating, they can climb up the front steps of any house, and ring on the doorbell, say trick or treat, get some candy, and run on back down the steps to the next house,” says Taylor. “But, any kid with mobility challenges, whether they use a wheelchair or a walker, that’s just not an option for them unfortunately.”

She explains this hit close to home for her because she has a son who uses a wheelchair.

“Over the years we have had some amazing costumes for him that featured the wheelchair as a core part of it,” she says. “Sometimes people didn’t really understand there’s a wheelchair under there, and were wondering why he was too lazy to come up the stairs and get their candy.”

So, when she saw the Treat Accessibly program, she was impressed.

Yet, she points out it doesn’t aim to make people feel badly for having stairs leading to their front doors.

“Everybody has steps to their front door… so, unless you have a daily need for an accessible house, there’s really no need to rework your house, just rework your mindset,” she says.

She says one option is for people to sit outside with a lawn chair if weather permits.

“Chat with the neighbours, and have your candy station at the bottom of your stairs or on your driveway, whatever the logistics are around your house,” she says.

Padulo says he can see the response from the kids who come to his house every year.

“One year we did the Bat Cave – and we do it all out on my driveway, so there’s no stairs involved, so I get to see it on a micro level in person, which kind of empowers you to move forward,” he says.

The reaction from the community through social media has been positive, says Padulo.

But for him, he has seen the impact of the program on another level.

Choking up, he says, “At the micro level, when you have a mom hug you, the mom of a child who’s never been able to trick or treat before –  that’s about all the response you need

For those interested in participating in Treat Accessibly, in partnership with the Oshawa Accessibility Advisory Committee, Home Depot, 1481 Harmony Road North, has signs for free.

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