New Brunswick

Disabilities advocate wins battle for ramp at voting site

Randy Dickinson, longtime advocate for people with disabilities, says he's pleased a ramp has been built at an Elections NB returning office in Fredericton.

Randy Dickinson says it shouldn't have taken public outcry to get it done

Longtime disabilities advocate Randy Dickinson watches as a new ramp is built at the Elections New Brunswick returning office on Prospect Street in Fredericton on Friday. (Mark Crosby/CBC News)

Randy Dickinson smiled as wheeled up to the Elections New Brunswick returning office on Prospect Street Friday afternoon.

Construction on a ramp for the front entrance of the Fredericton West–Hanwell returning office was well underway.

"I'm really happy now. The other day I felt like I was punched in the stomach as a second class citizen," he said.

Dickinson is the chair of the Premier's Council on Disabilities and a past chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.

He says when he arrived at the returning office on Tuesday, he found a front entrance with five steps, but no wheelchair ramp.

    He posted a photo on social media and contacted Elections New Brunswick.

    Randy Dickinson posted this picture of the entrance to the Fredericton West-Hanwell returning office on social media on Tuesday. (Randy Dickinson/Twitter)

    Dickinson was originally told a ramp would be built on Wednesday.

    But later that day Elections New Brunswick spokesperson Paul Harpelle said the problem had been solved by giving people with disabilities access to a side door at the building.

    "The building already had an existing wheelchair–accessible entrance, so the landlord had a door installed that now provides access to our returning office. It had been blocked off when Horizon Health took over a portion of the building," Harpelle said on Wednesday.

    But Dickinson wasn't happy with the solution.

    As someone with a disability as well as underlying health conditions, he says he wasn't comfortable going through the same door used by Horizon Health employees alongside a COVID–19 testing site.

    Randy Dickinson chairs the Premier's Council on Disabilities and says while he's glad the federal government has recognized the need for financial help during the pandemic, it should have been sent out sooner. (Submitted/Randy Dickinson)

    Construction on a ramp began on Friday morning .

    Dickinson said he's happy it's being installed, but disappointed it took public outcry and complaining to get it done.

    "As the chair of the Premier's Council on Disabilities, we'll be using this example to deal with the next incoming government to get amendments made to the current elections act to define more clearly the requirements for accessibility to the main entrances of all future voting facilities, whether it's a returning office, polling stations or election day locations itself," Dickinson said.

    A person is shown walking towards the top of a wooden accessibility ramp with dark railings on both sides. The ramp is next to a set of concrete steps outside of a glass commercial building, the Elections NB returning office on Prospect Street.
    Construction was well underway Friday afternoon at the Elections New Brunswick returning office on Prospect St. in Fredericton. Randy Dickinson says people with disabilities should be able to use the front entrance like everyone else. (Mark Crosby/CBC News)

    Dickinson has been considering making a formal complaint to the human rights commission to draw attention to the issue. He says a person has up to 12 months to file a complaint after an incident, so he'll wait to see how much progress is made in the coming months.

    He will go back to the returning office early next week to use the new ramp and cast his ballot.

    "Now I feel my hope in democracy and my feeling that people are listening and trying to do the right thing is back on track and we'll keep watching for other situations like this," Dickinson said.

    In an emailed statement to CBC News, Harpelle said Elections NB is happy the issue was fixed.

    "We are pleased that the landlord was able to move quickly to offer a more suitable solution that provides additional accessibility to the returning office."


    Kate Letterick is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick.