Doctor Anna Williams is seen here skating at the Char Lan Arena, in South Glengarry Township, with her homemade skating aid. (Submitted photo)

Skater benched while South Glengarry Township rules on safety of homemade skating aid

South Glengarry Township is reviewing its regulations regarding the use of skating aids, after a Hawkesbury doctor was told by arena staff that she could no longer use her homemade skating aid at the Char-Lan Arena. Without the aid, Doctor Anna Williams, who suffers from severe arthritis in her knees, is unable to skate.

Williams’ daughter, Steph Jaworski, told The Review that her mom took up skating about a year ago, in an effort to spend more time with her grandchildren.

“When we would go to the arena, mom would stay stuck to the boards and she would edge along following the children. She ended up getting tendonitis from holding on so tight,” said Jaworski.

The solution seemed simple. The arena already provides skating aids for novice, children skaters. The aids are designed something like a walker used by the elderly. They help skaters to maintain their balance while slowly pushing the device ahead of them. The child sized aids were far too small for Williams to use, so Jaworski and her husband, Ron Brennan, began looking for an adult version.

That’s where it got tricky. Adult-sized skating aids proved impossible to find. So Jaworski got creative. She and her husband designed their own adult-sized aid, based on the ones already being used at the arena. The skating aid was constructed using heavy-duty construction pipes and it was tested by the family before being presented to Williams as a Christmas gift.

“She used it at the arena for about a month and it was working really well,” said Jaworski, who noted that even rink staff were commenting to the family on the efficiency of the device. She said other skaters were coming up and asking where they could get one too.

On Friday, February 10, the situation changed. When Williams and her family arrived at the rink to skate, Jaworski said that they were approached by a staff member who told them that the skating aid was not certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), which approves helmets and other safety gear. In a heated exchange, they were told they would not be allowed to skate with an unauthorized device.

“It didn’t seem reasonable to us, because the skating aids used by the little kids are also not CSA approved,” said Jaworski. She said that her family was given no alternative options.

After being told her mom could no longer use her skating aid, Jaworski posted an appeal on Facebook, where she asked her friends to write to South Glengarry Township and ask them to appeal the case. In her letter, Jaworski said that she felt like her mother was being discriminated against based on her disability and she questioned a rule that would actively discourage people with physical limitations from participating in sporting activities.

When Jaworski spoke to The Review on Monday, she said that she was shocked by the attention her Facebook post received. Earlier that day, she had also been contacted by Ewen MacDonald, South Glengarry Township’s general manager of infrastructure services, who assured her that he would be looking into the matter.

When The Review spoke to MacDonald on Monday, he said the situation boils down to ensuring that the skating aid is safe for Williams to use and for the skaters around her. The device, which he referred to as “sturdy,” is being inspected by staff and he said that he is researching alternatives and safety recommendations.

“There are guidelines set by the Ontario Recreation Facilities Association, relating to diligence and best practices. The association discourages skating aids not designed for beginners, specifically children,” said MacDonald.

At this point, MacDonald said that he is doing his own due diligence to ensure that this device is safe. He said that his first reaction was to go online and attempt to purchase a suitable, CSA approved device that could be used by all adult skaters at the arena. Like Jaworski, he was unable to find one.

MacDonald also acknowledged that the children’s skating aids that were purchased by the township are also not CSA approved.

“The difference is that this one is homemade versus a device from a recognized supplier. We assume it is safe, but we need to do a bit of research on it first,” said MacDonald, who is expected to release his report by the end of the week.

“It was an unfortunate incident that should have been dealt with differently, but we still need to do our due diligence and make sure the apparatus is safe. Of course we want to promote that seniors can go out and skate with their grandchildren. We hope to resolve this in the next few days,” said MacDonald.