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July 14, 2014

Ramping up

For me, one of the highlights of last year was the election of Kevin Murphy to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly and his subsequent appointment as Speaker.  I and other wheelchair users have high hopes that Murphy's tenure will represent a sea change in attitudes about accessibility and fairness

For reasons of tradition, the Speaker of the House sits on a slightly raised platform, from which he can see and be seen throughout the Legislature.  With Murphy and his wheelchair this requires imagination to accomplish.  There could be a lift, whose whirring and noise would seem incompatible with the dignity of the House.

Or, as was decided, a ramp serves well.  The ramp is quite unobtrusive.  The wood matches, the carpet is quiet, the rope railings lend a nautical theme.  The unspoken message that the highest reaches of power are available to all is clear.  Joseph Howe would approve.

I visited Kevin a few weeks ago and he graciously let me wheel up the ramp.  I overheard a conversation, the gist of which was that the ramp is not up to code.  It needs proper railings 42 inches high and some kind of fence.  Plexiglass is being proposed.

To me, this would be an example of administrative overreach; a failure to think reasonably and creatively.

Murphy is a capable adult, not prone to veering off the edge in any circumstance.  Plexiglass isn't really invisible, and would be an intrusion in the storied chamber.  We need to look at this slightly ambiguous situation and decide if it's a problem worth solving.  Problems have objectives and context.  Solutions sometimes require creativity and compromise.

The secret in this particular situation is that even with a 42 inch railing, this ramp could never be up to code.  It's too steep.  It really should be fractionally longer, requiring removing the wall at the end.  Or removing a desk and having a switchback.  Or relocating the Speaker's chair off-center.
  • The objective is to get Speaker Murphy, a determined and skilled individual up to a slightly raised position.  We cannot fail in this.
  • The context is a place of considerable history and architectural significance.
  • The solution requires balance and compromise; there are alternatives, but there is a good solution.
So it should be with similar collisions of context and objective.  Access to a historic building does't always require a gleaming plexiglass and steel ramp.  On Barrington Street, portable ramps might do, or two-level sidewalks, or interior ramps.  Access is the certain goal, but how we get there is variable.  It serves no purpose to bludgeon people with rigid adherence to rules.  Be reasonable, be open to compromise.

And remember,without a Speaker, there is no government.

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