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June 12, 2013

Out-of-touch and proud of it

In response to our recent survey on Constitueny Office accessibility, we received a response so breathtakingly condescending and ignorant that it deserves special attention.  People with disabilities are used to patronizing attitudes, but not from government officials.  This person is a Constituency Assistant, paid by the people he or she she disparages.  And this person should be fired, but you will not learn their name here.

His or her remarks in blue, my response in red.

It was good to chat with you and I wish you the best on your project for the Society.

While our office is quite willing to participate. Based on what you recorded it does not put things in perspective and misleads.

- Gravel parking area with no designated wheelchair parking spots

Wheel chair movement in the area at the office-front is easy. It is not loose gravel but more of a packed“crusher-dust”. We have been here for almost 7 years and it is a non issue. Therefore I will state there is plenty of wheelchair parking in front of our door.   Your statement above does not describe the area accurately when it comes to designated parking spots or condition of the base in front of our office. You lead people to believe that this is a negative to those with impairment. It is not. 


Wheelchairs are not good on gravel, mostly for lack of traction, and even worse on crusher dust, mostly for its tendency to turn soupy in inclement weather.  Asphalt or cement pavement is really the only satisfactory solution for reliable traction and for the purpose of staying relatively clean.  People who are attending a business meeting have a reasonable expectation of cleanliness, and I expect your MLA might be unenthusiastic about shaking my chalky, clay covered hand.  When I return home, my partner is always after me about tracking in residue from my daily appointments, and common courtesy would mandate that your dirt not mess up my clean house.  

Most wheelchair users require some sort of extra wide parking to deploy a ramp or at least to position their wheelchair next to an open door.  This is why 'van accessible' spaces have room for a regular car and those diagonally striped areas beside, often leading directly to a curb cut.  These areas are not for the convenience of motorcyclists, although you might be excused for thinking so based on casual observation.  If you do not have designated accessible spaces, of course spaces near your office door would be occupied first by people whose need is less. 

Businesses with extensive gravel lots sometimes just pave a few spaces and designate them as accessible.

You conclude your section on parking by saying "You lead people to believe that this is a negative to those with impairment. It is not"  Let me be perfectly clear.  No one here is impaired.  Banish that word from your vocabulary.  We are talking about ways for citizens, taxpayers and voters to interact with the government that is elected to represent them.  Please keep your prejudices to yourself.

- No automatic door operator on the front door
Our automatic door is a human being.  It is the best solution of all and does not increase the carbon footprint. Our front-desk is  three-t0-five feet from the door and great visibility of the door and parking area.  You make the lack of an automatic door a negative. It is not…nor would an automatic door improve accessibility. So…yes we have an automatic door because we are always there to open it!

The Door Button

After 20 years of wheelchair use I have become pretty adept at doors, even heavy ones.  Getting through a tricky door is like dekeing a goalie - a complicated maneuver with multiple feedbacks.  As you say, you have a polite person at your front desk who will unfailingly leap to open the door.  Perhaps your human is better at this than most and always at their post.  Yet people with disabilities value their autonomy as much as anyone else and prefer to participate without having to ask for help.  

That aside, the button is a symbol, a bit of advertising that a person using a wheelchair (or pushing a stroller, or carrying a package) is welcome.  Low-power door openers use 2 amps, which at 120 volts is 240 watts.  To reduce your carbon footprint, you might choose to work in the dark, but it seems unkind to begrudge a few seconds use of the equivalent of four 60-watt bulbs.  Your neighbourhood supermarket has even more elaborate automatic doorways on their premises, and they know how to make customers feel welcome.  Are constituents customers, or merely carbon dioxide generating inconveniences?

 Level entrance into the office

It is not perfect but one of the best in this Town.  Several occupants of wheelchairs have had no issue with the entrance.

Level Entrance

We credited you with a level entrance.  I see from Google Street view that your office has a half door.  Your receptionist would need to be vigilant indeed to see my 48" person above the bottom of the window.  There is a post located very inconveniently for wheelchair passage.  The geometry of wheelchairs dictates that obstacles, even small ones, be taken at right angles.  They simply will not go over a threshold at an angle, where one caster is up and one is down.  So a person using your door would need to position themselves orthogonally, allowing for a little momentum to get over what appears to be a small lip.  That would require a minimum 36" straight shot.

- A washroom that wouldn't be considered wheelchair accessible

Yes this is true. However we have done our best to acquire this leased space in the town and paraplegics have been able to use it despite the size.


Is it a civil right to be able to pee while at a meeting with your MLA, or just a courtesy?  Either way, it can be a matter of urgency.  For most wheelchair users, the issue is safety.  Those grab bars aren't just spiffy towel racks and the 17" toilet isn't just taller for show.  Using properly placed grab bars, an adept person can make the transfer unassisted.  A wheel under sink allows a person to wash hands soon to be used in shaking with their MLA or CA. Hygiene is the expectation.

I have the option to sue you when I fall in your inadequate washroom, and I would expect to win a settlement that would make you pay attention.  The larger issue, of course, is employment discrimination.  Have you ever had a wheelchair user apply for a job?  Perhaps you might if you had modern facilities.  Another lawsuit I would surely win.  


... your question does not apply in our rural setting as there are no public transit routes period.

Public Transit

For the reasons you state, we do not factor availability of public transit into the final score.  It is simply for the information of readers.

If you are using the info I gave you in the manner of your previous email, it does not apply and does reflect the reality. Therefore unless you provide more detail I do not think we want to participate in your survey.


I can only imagine the irritations that come with operating a rural constituency office. Perhaps we hit you on a bad day. Whatever the reason, your response was both condescending and ill-informed. That citizens who use wheelchairs can not access, let alone work in, the offices of their elected members on an equal basis with other Nova Scotians is a disgrace, especially when the opportunities to improve this deplorable situation are inexpensive, easy, well documented, and require only a little will.  Frankly, I am baffled that you defend the indefensible.  When the alternative is to perpetuate barriers or to remove them, it seems to me that there is only one choice.

For now, I am inclined to say that our score for your office - 1 out of 6 - is generous.

Gus Reed
The James McGregor Stewart Society

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