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Letter: Accessibility barriers an insulting roadblock

Being in a wheelchair has many challenges, but being able to enter a building independently and move about freely should not be one of them. Unfortunately, many establishments in St. John’s are not wheelchair accessible, even though they claim to be, and this has been a problem for many years.

Wheelchair accessibility refers to how easily a disabled person can negotiate a building or structure. But most people don’t understand what this means and the Buildings Accessibility Act makes it harder to understand. This has many disabled people feeling inferior to able-bodied people because they are excluded from many facilities.
Those facilities include parts of Memorial University, some provincial schools, recreational facilities and shopping establishments.
I am a former MUN student and have first-hand experience of wheelchair accessibility issues there. The ramp that leads to the library is too steep for a person in a wheelchair to use independently. I had to get another student to push my chair up the ramp, and required help getting the books I needed because the shelves were too high and the aisles were too narrow. Also, the bathroom stalls are too small for wheelchairs to fit in because the door can’t close.
A wheelchair lift in the Education Building can only be used by someone in a wheelchair if they can lower the lift to the floor independently or have someone do it for them. I couldn’t use the lift because it was too heavy.
Universities shouldn’t have accessibility issues with all the advances made in today’s world. These problems only increase the stress disabled students feel.
The English School District encompasses schools teaching grades kindergarten to 12. When a child in a wheelchair is zoned to a specific school, but later finds out they can’t attend this school because it can’t accommodate them, the answer is to move the child to another school in the closest zone. But as soon as the child can attend an accessible school in their zone, they have to leave all their friends and go to a school where they know no one. This happened to me.
I was zoned for Morris Academy but couldn’t go because the school wasn’t accessible. So, I went to St. Peter’s Primary until Grade 6. Then, I had to switch to Mount Pearl Intermediate because this school was accessible and in my zone. I didn’t know anyone and felt isolated for the next couple of years.
One mall business with accessibility problems is Clair de Lune, which is crammed with merchandise, making it hard to fit wheelchairs through the aisles without breaking something.
The store has a sign that says “if you break it, you buy it.” If a piece of merchandise is carelessly broken, then this sign has merit. But when something breaks because a wheelchair can’t fit into a crammed store, then it should be the owner’s responsibility.
Some recreational facilities exclude people who have to use a wheelchair from participating in their programs. Plaza Bowl on Ropewalk Lane, for example, has been open for years and still isn’t accessible. Disabled customers can’t go there because the front entrance has stairs and no ramp, lift or elevator.
In downtown St. John’s, there are many stores unique to the city. Unfortunately, many have steps, or doors that aren’t automated, and they’re too hard to move around in. In other words, they are not wheelchair accessible. These businesses are not breaking any laws because of the 1981 Buildings Accessibility Act, which says: “5.(1) This Act does not apply to buildings existing on Dec. 24, 1981 except the buildings or class of buildings that the Lieutenant-Governor in Council may prescribe by regulation.” 
This is unacceptable.
All disabled people have the right to enter any establishment free of barriers, and to be treated equally. I am not looking for handouts, but there are times that help would be greatly appreciated. I understand the disabled community represents a minority, but we still count as people and needs these accommodations to live a full life.
Everyone should be given the same opportunity to become the best person they can be. But how can this be happen when we’re excluded from everything?
This needs to change. Now!  

Jonathon Pittman
St. John’s

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