Nova Scotia

Halifax 'slow to change' when it comes to accessibility, wheelchair-user says

Even on a trip to city hall, wheelchair-user had to call on strangers for help three times to get inside the building.

Mayor Mike Savage asks city staff for update on accessibility progress in Halifax

In many cases, Paul Vienneau says the infrastructure to accommodate people with disabilities just isn't there — or it's installed improperly. (CBC)

A Halifax man who uses a wheelchair says he still confronts obstacles when it comes to navigating the city on a daily basis, and says the municipality needs to do more to improve accessibility.

Paul Vienneau, 47, was injured when he was hit by a tractor trailer while riding his bike in Toronto 25 years ago. Originally from Dartmouth, he has since moved back to Nova Scotia, and says getting around in his manual wheelchair can be difficult.

"We talk a good game, but we're sort of slow to change," he said. Vienneau said he's noticed some momentum at city hall in the last year or so, but chalks that up to pre-election campaigning.

He even had trouble getting inside city hall when he met with the mayor a few months ago. "I had to — three separate times — call strangers to pull me up three corners," Vienneau said.

"Now, it's the seat of municipal democracy. It should be directly accessible, physically, by every citizen in the city."

Career was hampered

Vienneau said he wants to see infrastructure development that is inclusive, and that includes "all the things that able-bodied people take for granted, like being able to go to a job." 

He said he wasn't able to pursue his music career in Halifax because he couldn't find an accessible cab to get to work. He said venues were also resistant to providing a ramp up to the stage, so he had to be carried up in front of the audience "which is kind of dehumanizing and embarassing."

Infrastructure lacking

In many cases, Vienneau said the infrastructure to accommodate people with disabilities just isn't there — or it's installed improperly. He describes a downtown business where the accessible button for the bathroom door is on the wrong side. 

"When you press the button, the door opens in your face. So, unless you're Speedy Gonzales and jump out of the way, it's not a do-able way to get into the bathroom."

He said the city needs to enforce existing bylaws, and properly train enforcement officers so they understand the standards. They should also consult with those who are going to be using accessible services, he said.

The city recently ordered a number of new accessible buses, but Vienneau said they didn't consider how to effectively secure a wheelchair once it's inside the bus.

"On most of the buses it's like a one-point, sort of a seatbelt arrangement," he said, "which doesn't immobilize the chair at all, and certainly doesn't immobilize the person in the chair."

Mayor's pledge

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage made a motion at a council meeting on Tuesday to ask staff for an update on what the city can do to make it easier for people with disabilities to get around.

While the mayor has acknowledged some progress, he also said more needs to be done. "We had a reception here a week ago for the wheelchair athletes at the Bluenose marathon," Savage said, speaking from city hall on Tuesday.

"There were people here who said look, the city's doing some great stuff and I think we are. But I think we really need to stretch the envelope and go as far as we possibly can."

Halifax committed to making the city an "inclusive and accessible community" with the chief administration office overseeing the plan, as part of the 2015-2016 budget and business plan.