Revisiting Accessibility…Again

I live in a Calgary riding who’s MLA is a fellow in a wheelchair, Kent Hehr. I have dealt with Kent on a number of issues and I run into him on occasion in the community as he keeps himself very visible (for all of the right reasons). The Beltline is a pretty high density area which makes being visible even easier when there is a concentration of very popular local hang outs.

Kent has recently been very supportive in my own ongoing fight with Alberta Aids to Daily Living regarding what is more important in making a determination for a new wheelchair, my need or their policy. Anyway that’s a discussion for another day. Kent was recently featured in a Calgary Herald article regarding accessibility issues within the Calgary School Board system.

I know, hard to believe but yes there continue to be accessibility issues within the school system. Thirty-seven years AFTER the introduction of accessibility standards for public institutions in the national building code we are, as they say, moving forward cautiously. If the Aldabra Giant Tortoise didn’t use a similar cautious in their mating techniques they probably wouldn’t be facing extinction.

After reading the article I had to give my head a shake and questioned how uninformed this system thinks people are. Is the general public really buying this response from CBE? I sat on committees in the late 70’s and early 80’s discussing these very issues with the school board of the day. But the CBE needed time to “really evaluate the recommendations” so they could move forward cautiously.

I don’t believe that the 24 schools rated as critical were as critical 33 years ago but I could be wrong, I haven’t seen the list. But here we are, over 35 years later, having this discussion AGAIN while some people are reacting like this is a new issue. I can tell you quite personally THIS IS NOT NEW. If you are paying attention to your environment you would probably notice this. Unfortunately many of us have moved on from those times in our lives. My son finished school ten years ago so schools don’t play a big part in my life anymore. In that area I have become a little complacent myself. This re-enforces something I have said for a long time; just because I have moved on to other issues does not always mean the one I was fighting for has necessarily been solved.

From the news article; “But the CBE said it would cost too much to make all dated facilities barrier-free”. Is that really the reason after all of these years? I recall attending a meeting at the CBE’s Disability Resource Centre down in the Parkdale School about three years ago. I was there assisting a family with a child on the autism spectrum, at least that was the belief at that time. But again that is a different story however this does stress my question on how much corporate buy-in the CBE has made to access.

As was my practice I arrive for this meeting a little early so I could scope the place out. Now keep in mind this is the CBE’s Disability Resource Centre of that day, a 50’s style school. They now have this opulent palace that I can look down on from my condo but the average family can’t find an affordable parking spot in order to attend any meetings there. But I digress, I am wheeling around the outside of this school (the Disability Resource Centre….can’t stress that one enough) but I can’t find an entrance with a ramp.

So I wind up sitting out front of the school waiting for the family to arrive. Once they do they go into the school to see if they can find an entrance. Within five minutes I have a school administrator of some sort at my side throwing apologies at me while saying had of they known I was in a wheelchair they would have scheduled the meeting for someplace more accessible.

Now she’s piqued my interest. I, as politely as I can muster, ask her why the CBE Disability Resource Centre, the main centre for all things disabled, doesn’t have a ramped entrance. By this point I had found a side door with a minimum three stairs which I had decided would be my easiest entry point. As I made my way the stairs on my hands and knees to get into this meeting, she explained to me that they did have a ramp but it had been taken down for safety reasons.

By now the family I was attending with had carried my wheelchair up the steps and I was back in it. As she led us threw the backside hallways she points out this broken down plywood structure saying that use to be the ramp. This ramp, and I am being very polite in allowing it that title, was in such a state of non-maintenance the CBE had been ordered to take it down and get it repaired, THREE YEARS AGO. From my perspective having seen many ramps in my lifetime I am not sure what I was looking would have met ramp standards fifteen years ago let alone three years ago.

To me actions speak far more effectively than words. I have heard too many words in my life saying this will be done or that will be changed just to come back ten years later to discover that nothing was ever done. With my eighteen year absence from Calgary it would appear that is exactly what has happened in Alberta.

So good luck Kent you are going to be talking for a long time.


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