Guest Editorial: Re: Making Buildings Accessible

By Victor Schwartzman

August 31, 2009

A recent piece by Janis Ramsey(Making Buildings Accessible) was very revealing. Her article detailed the ongoing problems Catherine Caldwell has in Barrie, Ontario, accessing public
buildings, and that the Government is yet again reviewing the problem. Why
are articles like this still being written? Was not the law clearly
established decades ago?

Caldwell is quoted describing ongoing difficulty accessing basic public
businesses such as movie theatres and restaurants. Her concerns were
featured in an article about the latest in an endless series of reviews by
The Ministry of Community and Social Services, noting the Ministry is asking
for public presentations (cannot the Ministry simple read back through all
of the other public presentations over the years? What new information does
the Ministry hope to find?)

After decades of human rights law, with accessibility requirements firmly
established, why are not all buildings in Barrie (and Ontario) appropriately
accessible? Why does the Ministry need to review anything, yet again? Why
does The Ministry simply not require that buildings open to the public are
actually open to the entire public? Is this latest “review” simply just one
more excuse for the Government to forget its own human rights legislation?
Or does the Ministry even need an excuse as it seems to have forgotten that
accessibility is a matter of law, not pleading?

The Ministry’s latest paper-not-people project is ensuring that parking
lots, washrooms, hallways and elevators are more user-friendly. Property
owners are being asked to make businesses accessible during renovations and
aren’t be forced to retrofit existing properties. Why are they being asked
to do what the law requires?

May I suggest that, given the Ministry’s speed in ensuring human rights laws
are followed, that perhaps the next “latest project” of The Ministry should
be to ensure that all public roads are wide enough to accommodate a cart
pulled by a horse. This would at least bring Ontario up to the level of the
ancient Roman Empire.

>From the article it is obvious that the local businesses are all willing to
work with Caldwell to accommodate her…in the total absence of the
Government’s help. Is it fair to ask why Caldwell has to work with local
businesses on her own to improve accessibility? Is it fair to ask why a
matter of law is still seen by the Ministry as, instead, negotiation?

As Caldwell notes, things in Barrie are a lot better than they were in
1985—apparently with no thanks to any pressure from the Government. It is
stunning that after so many decades only NOW is the Barrie Fire Department
finally considering how it should approach mobility impairment issues.
Could there be a more damning indictment of the failure of the Government to
ensure human rights law is enforced?

Perhaps the Ministry’s next review should be an assessment of how all of its
reviews have sunk like heavy rocks into the dark seas of its bureaucracy. A
recommendation: instead of uselessly taking up space on someone’s shelf so
the bureaucracy can prove it is doing something, maybe the latest review and
all of its brothers and sisters can be thrown into a land fill, where at
least they will do some good.