The City of Ottawa said a Scotiabank branch without a ramp at its Sussex Drive street entrance complies with bylaws because the bank can be accessed from an interior lobby door.
Photographer Steve Gerecke, who uses a wheelchair, had complained the branch at 700 Sussex Drive — a temporary location while work is done at the bank's Rideau Centre location — should have an accessibility ramp on the street.
Wheelchair users can access the branch — which opened in July — from an interior lobby door, but the bank's main doors facing Sussex are accessible only by steps. As the lobby door is not accessible after hours, Gerecke said he couldn't use the bank's ATM after hours either.
But in a letter Thursday, the City of Ottawa said access to the Scotiabank ATMs is good enough, because the building code doesn't specify that "barrier free access" must be from the door providing direct access to the exterior.
"The building designer opted to provide the barrier free access from the lobby of the main building in view of the elevation changes on Sussex Drive," the city said in a statement. "This was an option permitted by the Building Code and benefits all tenants occupying the unit recently re-fitted for the bank. This is the same condition as the original construction and the previous tenants also utilized doors from the lobby area to provide barrier free access."
'An unfortunate position to hide behind,' disabled advocate says
Advocates for the disabled say it's an unacceptable situation.
"If they had a sign out saying women can only go in here certain hours, but men anytime, would we be having this conversation?" said David Lepofsky, a lawyer who volunteers for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Alliance.
David Ferguson, the executive director of the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, said the city's response is "an unfortunate position to hide behind."
"I think the bank should be working with the person and the bank to make access available — that's not a good circumstance in 2014," he said.
In Ontario, public buildings and most places where there is any kind of kiosk need to meet the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requirements. But banks are federally regulated and exempt from meeting the AODA requirements.
In a statement to the CBC, Scotiabank public and corporate affairs spokeswoman Sheena Findlay said the company was looking for solutions to the problem.
"We are aware of the situation and we sincerely apologize and understand that it has caused our customers frustration," wrote Findlay.
Findlay said the relocation to Sussex Drive was done "under tight timelines to assist the City of Ottawa with their efforts to build an LRT and make Ottawa a better place to live."
"While there is an accessible entrance during our regular hours of business we have been and are continuing to explore solutions to provide access 24 hours a day to all customers," she wrote.
Gerecke said he has been disappointed with the company's response.
"It just seems so surreal. There are a lot of old stores and old restaurants that don't have accessibility, but we're talking about an international institution."