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Accessibility on the Southwest coast

The two-storey courthouse in Port aux Basques is not fully accessible, and circuit court is held at a more accessible site like a local hotel when someone with mobility issues is scheduled to attend. – © File photo

By Jaymie L. White

Special to Wreckhouse Press

PORT AUX BASQUES – On Wednesday, Apr. 27, Digital Government and Service NL prepared a document entitled ‘What We Heard’ that surrounds consultations on the Buildings Accessibility Act.

As a result of the consultations, numerous obstacles to accessibility were identified, such as the structural limitations of older buildings and minimum requirements being inadequate in meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities.

Numerous recommendations for change were also discussed including:

• The 5-10-20 year timeline is too long to address accessibility needs and should be shorter

• Government should be required to have their buildings accessible within 12 years, 20 years for the private sector, and

• Consideration should be given to providing grants rather than tax credits for accessibility upgrades.

MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) said the numerous issues surrounding older buildings are a big reality for the province.

“A lot of the infrastructure we have is aging or has aged and accessibility, even the building codes, were so much different than they are now, and the ability to have access, especially to a public building, is a right.”

Port Aux Basques Mayor Brian Button, said one of the biggest issues for accessibility in communities throughout the region is the fact that there are so many aging buildings that were not built to the same standards as newer buildings now are.

“For example, the courthouse in Stephenville, if you take a building like that, for years and years the courthouse ran out of this older building, and when it comes to today, is that proper? Is that the type of facility we should have? Shouldn’t we make these facilities accessible for everyone?”

Button said there are ways to make the necessary changes to a lot of these older structures.

“I think it’s important. Everything can’t be done all at once, but we should certainly be trying to be more aware of and try to investigate a little more on ways to make things more accessible.”

Parsons said retrofitting every building with accessibility issues would most likely cost billions, making it not feasible; however, necessary changes are still taking place.

“I just saw a new addition to the federal RCMP building in Port Aux Basques where we’re seeing these walkways and we’re seeing these new steps that weren’t always done, and we realize it’s not only that we have to, it’s that we should.”

Parsons said it’s unfair for anybody who has suffered, even a non-permanent mobility issue, to have problems accessing the ferry, public buildings, that everyone deserves the same access.

“As a society we’ve certainly evolved and advanced in recognizing the rights of individuals to have access. The next part of it is we have an aging population,” said Parsons. “I think the average person now, we look at it and we don’t think the same way we did. We don’t look at it and say, ‘too bad’. We look at it and say, ‘this isn’t right,’ and everybody has the right to access. Everybody has the right to mobility and I think we’ve all grown with that, and now I look at my kids and can’t even imagine it’s something they would see the same as perhaps I did when I was younger.”

Button said there are several buildings where concerns or questions were raised regarding their accessibility. He said no formal letters have come in regarding building accessibility, however, these are things that the Town is constantly taking a look at especially when it comes to publicly accessible buildings.

“Probably over the next little while we’ll be doing some sort of evaluations on that, but we haven’t had anything formally that has come in. I have had people come to me about places in general in Town that aren’t that accessible, and I think some of this has been ongoing for a couple of years.”

Button said a proper assessment would have to be done on any facility before changes are made to ensure proper guidelines are followed.

“It’s one thing to try to make things accessible, but you want to make sure it’s properly done with today’s standards. So if we are going to be looking at any buildings that we have ourselves, or if we’re going to have discussions with outside businesses, I think we need to have the proper assessments done so we know exactly what we’re doing, what we need to follow, and what needs to be put in place to make it fully accessible.”

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