More than 72 Nova Scotia schools are not accessible to students with mobility issues, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said Wednesday.
That means students who use wheelchairs, such as Peyton Roach, can’t use parts of their schools. Roach, 10, attends senior elementary at Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea School, but can't get to the school's second floor.
Emily Duffett of the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities believes that’s wrong. The Kentville woman has used a wheelchair since she was nine. She watched Roach’s story on CBC.
"It just about broke my heart," she said Wednesday. "He's a smart young man who just wants to be able to go to school. That's not too much to ask."
Her family had to fight for every accommodation she got.
'We deserve the same as anyone else'
"It was always the same story: the cost is too prohibitive, or we don't have the resources, we don't have the time, you're not at risk," she said.
"It's not just a need or a disability issue. We're people here in this province, too. We deserve the same as anyone else."
When Peyton Roach starts Grade 5, he won’t be able to get to his classroom, the library, or other rooms on the second floor.
His parents lobbied for improved access for years, as they knew he’d have to face it at some point.
Goal to make all schools accessible
The Halifax Regional School Board apologized to the Roach family for not keeping its promise to install a lift for the start of this year.
The board says its goal is to make all schools accessible.
"Any new school that gets built, obviously they're fully accessible," said spokesman Doug Hadley.
"We have a plan where we’ve been able to do a couple of schools each year, in terms of whether it's installing an elevator or lift, or if there's a major renovation project that we do in terms of refurbishing these school. That's when these things get done."
Problems persist outside of schools, too, where many playgrounds are accessed by stairs, or a long detour, and students have to wheel across gravel.
Karen Casey, the province’s education minister, says the government wants to make all public buildings (including schools) accessible, but she did not provide a time frame to do that.
Here are how the school board break down:
- Conseil scolaire acadien provincial. Three out of 22 schools are not fully accessible.
- Halifax Regional School Board. 45 out of 137 schools are not fully accessible.
- Chignecto-Central Regional School Board. Five out of 73 schools are not fully accessible.
- Annapolis Valley Regional School Board. Two out of 43 schools (plus two adult high schools) are not fully accessible.
- Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board. 12 out of 53 schools are not fully accessible.
- Strait Regional School Board. Three out of 21 schools are not fully accessible.
- South Shore Regional School Board. Two out of 24 schools are not fully accessible.
- Tri-County Regional School Board. Awaiting information.