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August 27, 2008

Disabled not welcome in Constituency Offices

Constituency Matters do matter

The regulations of the Legislature Internal Economy Board pursuant to
the House of Assembly Act set out the expenses Nova Scotia MLAs can be reimbursed for maintaining an office in their riding and other constituency matters as follows

Admittedly, this is not a lavish sum. A secretary or administrator would cost $1,500 maybe, the rent on the office in the stripmall another $1500. Heat, light, stamps, copying – it adds up.

There are no strings to this allowance, so MLAs are free to have offices wherever they want.

We surveyed the 52 Constituency Offices maintained by MLAs. We visited a few, but most were telephoned. We were polite, and on the whole, respondents were polite. It is fair to say that the idea of accessibility does not figure prominently in the choice of location.

We asked about 6 categories of accessibility

  • Parking
  • Barrier Free approach
  • Doors and entrance – power doors or doors with a 2kg opening force
  • Washrooms
  • Information – Braille, visible alarms, etc.
  • Meeting Space

Each category got a “1” if present in any way, and a “0” if absent.
We were generous.
The ratings were totaled for each office
38 surveys were completed by phone or visit – 73%

This chart shows the frequency of accessible services

  • So most offices represented that meeting rooms were accessible, although we did not press this question in detail
  • Few offices could meet the commonly accepted standard of door pressure
  • 9 offices had accessible washrooms

This chart represents the distribution of the totals for all offices surveyed

  • For example, 17 offices had 2 accessible services
  • The average number of services is 2.47
  • One person made the case that access wasn’t needed because the MLA made home visits, forgetting that a person with a disability might be qualified for a job at the office

It is indefensible to use taxpayer money in a way that physically excludes a large proportion of voters. Disabled employees are, as in all locations with poor accessibility, openly disqualified.

Therefore, the James McGregor Stewart Society proposes that the legislature institute a few simple requirements for constituency office accessibility:

  • Paved Lot
  • One van accessible space with signage
Barrier Free approach
  • Curb cut
  • Ramp
  • Sidewalk
Doors and entrance
  • Level threshold
  • 1000mm width
  • Sized and spaced for accessibility
  • 2 kg door opening pressure or power door
  • Raised toilet
  • Accessible sink
  • Sized and spaced for accessibility
  • Grab bars
  • Appropriate dispensers
  • Installed at correct height
  • Braille signs
Meeting Space and general accessibility
  • Braille signs
  • Sized and spaced for accessibility
  • TTY access
  • One computer optimized for access
  • Audible and visible alarms

    The government is in the enviable position of being a desirable and reliable tenant. Accessibility can be accomplished by giving landlords the list and saying “make it so”, or by shopping for suitable space.

    It may cost a bit more, so we propose that the constituency allowance be increased by an appropriate amount per month, provided the MLA files a declaration of compliance. Without the declaration, none of the stipend is allowed. The new regulations are in force as of January 1, 2009.

    This small effort will be a symbol of government’s commitment to meaningful access for all Nova Scotians.

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