Now 21, he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy in pre-school. That’s when she began seeing the barriers more clearly.
In the years since, she has acted as the executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association for Community Living, which focuses on helping people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
She was a member of the first advisory council on the status of persons with disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador, before becoming a politician.
She is now the minister responsible for the status of persons with disabilities.
“If I’m invited to a venue that I know is not an accessible venue, I’ll decline speaking at that venue,” she said.
“If I show up at the venue and I realize it’s not accessible, well, just out of respect for the organization that I’ve committed to, I will talk — and probably identify the fact that hopefully in the future this will be an accessible building.”
She said she has declined three times. It hasn’t always gone over well, but: “I mean, I am the minister responsible for the status of persons with disabilities. I should not be speaking at venues that are not fully accessible and inclusive.”
More accessible Housing
Gambin-Walsh told The Telegram she wants to see more accessible housing units required in new builds, particularly where public money is involved. She says that could save a lot of money — private and public — on retrofitting down the road.
As the minister responsible for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, she was there for the late May announcement of $6.1 million in provincial-federal funding to build 49 privately owned living spaces for seniors in new builds in St. Anthony, Pasadena, Gander and St. John’s. The number of accessible units will be 14, more than twice the legislated requirement.
She’d like to see more in future.
“I don’t think it would be too difficult, if you’re building 10, to make 10 of them accessible. I really don’t,” she said. “And I think it’s the way of the future and I think it’s the way that we have to be as we move forward.”
Cracking the provincial code
National building codes and standards apply in this province. But the provincial Buildings Accessibility Act adds rules for public buildings and multi-unit housing buildings open to the public, as opposed to private housing.
The regulations cover everything from the required width of corridors to where toilet paper dispensers are placed in bathrooms, although any buildings pre-dating the Act — proclaimed on Dec. 24, 1981 — are exempt.
Administration falls to Service NL and Minister Perry Trimper, who told The Telegram there is a desire to have these regulations reviewed.
An advisory committee has already submitted a list of recommended changes.
“So staff have been working through those recommendations and we’re going to be signalling very soon how we’re going to proceed,” he said.
“The recommendations are comprehensive and they address all matters, from renovations of buildings through to new buildings going up, and their use and occupancy, and in terms of recognizing (that) persons with disabilities also avail of hotel rooms, also avail of different kinds of infrastructure.
“So we need to have more and more of this considered in the design and building of these facilities.”
There are different, arguably more stringent, base standards in other provinces, he added. But he says he won’t change the rules here without public consultation.
By Ashley Fitzpatrick and Louis Power
N.L. home modification program
The provincial government offers financial help for anyone needing a home upgrade to meet their accessibility needs.
There are forgivable loans of up to $7,500 or, beyond that, a repayable loan program for up to $10,000 ($13,000 in Labrador).
The program is designed for people with low to middle incomes of $46,500 or less a year.
You will be asked to agree to a check of your finances, a property inspection and an occupational therapist’s report outlining whether the modifications are urgent or not.
It can help cover bigger projects you might need, like the installation of a ramp access, the widening of doorways, the lowering of kitchen counters, or the addition of a fully accessible shower.
(Source: Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation)