2014 Halifax version of the colored entrance

Colored Entrance

A childhood friend found this disturbing 1956 photograph by the late Life Magazine photographer Gordon Parks on the Facebook page of the African-American history group BlackPast.org. She reposted it on her own Facebook page, and I reposted to to mine, adding, “It’s worth remembering that this was less than 60 years ago.”

Epicurious Morsels

It didn’t take long for Gus Reed to post this photo of the posh Hydrostone restaurant Epicurious Morsels, adding:

60 years ago there was a separate entrance for African Americans at the Birmingham bus station. 60 seconds ago, this was the wheelchair entrance at a restaurant in Halifax. One of hundreds of retail establishments like this, by the way. Can you explain the difference?

It’s not the difference that should bother us, but the similarity. White southerners didn’t bat an eye at segregationist signs in the 1950s. Mobile Canadians don’t bat an eye at respectable establishments that exclude users of wheelchairs in the 20-teens.

Can I explain the difference? Yes. Canada lacks the public and political will to extend to people in wheel chairs the same civil rights we would be appalled to deny African Americans or Jews. After repeated protestations from Gus and others, HRM’s all-powerful building code enforcers have begun insisting new businesses include wheelchair accessibility, but heaven forfend a ramp should intrude on a square inch of the city’s notoriously wheelchair unfriendly sidewalks.

By the way, Epicurious Morsels and a lot of other Halifax establishments could solve this problem for less than $100 with a portable threshold ramp.

Side benefit of a Liberal sweep: accessible MLAs’ offices

Unintended Consequences Dept.: If next week’s election turns into a Liberal sweep, as seems increasingly likely, there will be many, many new faces at Province House. All those new members will be required to find fully accessible constituency offices within one year, or forego reimbursement of their office expenses. Returning members have three years to comply.

AMI, the accessible cable channel, has a nice video on the new rules:

These consequences aren’t completely unintended, of course, but at the time the new rules passed the House of Assembly Management Committee, few realized how many freshman MLAs might be arriving later this month.

Finally. Commission will pass MLA office accessibility rule Wednesday

The Nova Scotia House of Assembly Management Commission will meet Wednesday to clear up an injustice that should have been fixed decades ago. Its members will pass a new rule requiring MLAs’ constituency offices to be free of barriers to wheelchair users.

The commission reached all-party agreement on the change a month ago, but inexplicable last-minute foot-dragging by senior NDP officials threatened to deep-six the deal. Lobbying by the James MacGregor Stewart Society, a disability rights group,  embarrassed the government into action Friday.

MysteryNDPhonchoThe new rule will come into effect after the election, at which time newly elected MLAs will have one year to find a standards-compliant office. Re-elected MLAs with existing office leases will have three years to comply. All leases will be with the Speaker’s office. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal will ensure compliance with building code accessibility standards.

Had the election been called before the new rule was passed, the commission would have ceased to exist, and the large crop of freshman MLAs expected this fall could have rented inaccessible offices.

Responsibility for calling the commission meeting rests with Speaker Gordie Gosse, but it seems unlikely he was NDP honcho who wanted to scuttle the deal. A former steel worker, Gosse represents a working class constituency, and is widely regarded as sincere in his efforts on behalf of disadvantaged constituents. He also has personal experience with disability issues in his own family. Contrarian’s calls to Gosse’s office on the issue were returned by Jennifer Stewart, press secretary to the premier.

The Stewart society surveyed MLAs’ offices last spring, and found most to be party or completely inaccessible. Which of the powerful, long-time social democrats in cabinet was keen to keep them that way remains a matter of speculation.

No NS election tomorrow

In a telephone interview moments ago, Jennifer Stewart, press secretary to Premier Darrell Dexter, said “there absolutely will not be an election called tomorrow.”

We were discussing election timing because of the danger that an early election call could torpedo all-party efforts to bring in new rules ensuring that people in wheelchairs can visit and even work in MLAs offices in Nova Scotia. More on that shortly.

Does your MLA serve citizens in wheelchairs?


The James McGregor Stewart Society, a small voluntary group with a single summer intern, has managed to pull off in a month what the Disabled Persons Commission of NS (annual budget: $600,000) and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission ($2.1 million) have not achieved in the decades of their existence.

It has surveyed the accessibility of MLAs offices throughout the province. The results will not be a source of pride for Nova Scotia or its legislators.

ScoringThe survey rated MLAs’ constituency offices based on parking facilities, power door buttons, entrance accessibility, washroom accessibility, and proximity to accessible bus routes. Since accessible bus routes are mostly beyond an MLA’s control (many ridings have none), that category was not included in the final ratings.

Only four MLAs (Lenore Zann, Eddie Orrell, Kelly Regan, and Graham Steele) got a perfect score: paved parking with designated accesible spaces; level entrance, satisfactory ramp, or elevator; power door button; accessible bathroom with grab bars and wheel-under sink).

One MLA, Chris D’Entremont, who represents Argyle and sits on the Management Commission that will decide whether accessibility will be a condition for reimbursement of office expenses, scored a perfect zero. His office has no paved parking, no designated parking spaces, no level entrance, and no accessible washroom.

Although 43 MLAs claim an accessible doorway, only eight have a power door button, which means a constituent in a wheelchair can get in only if someone assists them. Once inside, wheelchair-using constituents will find only eight offices with fully accessible washrooms. How confidently could you attend a meeting knowing you would would have no chance to pee until you got home? You certainly couldn’t hold a job in such an office.

Another 30 MLAs claim some level of washroom accessibility, but lack grab bars, a wheel-under sink, or a high toilet. This translates as: Use at your own risk of accident or humiliation.

The survey turned up fewer regional variations than you might expect. The average MLA scored 3.1 points. Urban MLAs averaged 3.3, while rural MLAs averaged 2.9.

Metro MLAs averaged 3.2; Cape Breton MLAs just 2.4.

Liberal MLAs had the best score: an average of 3.5 points. PCs averaged 3.0, and the NDP trailed the pack with an average 2.9 points.

Two MLAs, Percy Paris and Geoff MacLellan, have not yet completed the survey. Cape Breton South is vacant.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: The eight MLAs who sit on the House of Assembly Management Commission, the body currently deciding whether to require accessibility as a condition of expense reimbursement, have an average score of just 2.3 — the lowest of any group I checked.

Map KeySpeaker Gordie Gosse, who chairs the committee, has a double distinction: His constituency office and his office in the legislature are both inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.

Clicking on the image at the top of this post will bring up an interactive map of Nova Scotia with a colored marker for each constituency office. Clicking on a marker will bring up accessibility details for that office.

Please note that the map and the data underlying it are works in progress. Some MLAs continue to provide new information, and the society’s intern, the redoubtable Kelly McKenna, is updating it continually. The information in this post is up to date to the best of my knowledge, but it’s a lot of information, and there could be minor errors.


Contractors belatedly install a wheelchair ramp at the Chickenburger outlet on Queen St. in Halifax Monday afternoon. Background here. Congratulations to Gus Reed for making HRM a little more inclusive than it was yesterday.

The city insists that installing the ramp was a condition of Mickey MacDonald’s “temporary” occupancy permit all along, but the chronology of events tells a different story.

July 4 — Reed, who uses a wheelchair, meets with MacDonald to protest against the newly opened restaurant’s inaccessibility. The owner is adamant that a ramp is not feasible.

July 6 — Reed writes to Brad Anguish, HRM’s Director, Community & Recreation Services, to complain that Chickenburger is out of compliance with the barrier-free requirements of the Nova Scotia Building Code Act.

July 10 — HRM building inspector Michael Morgan visits Chickenburger and issues an “Order to Comply” requiring it to install a ramp.

So… kudos to MacDonald and HRM for putting this right, after an initial delay and a push from Gus Reed.

But wouldn’t it be good to see the city take a pro-active approach and issue similar orders to restaurants that have been out o compliance for years?

Chief Electoral Obfuscation Officer

Before the end of June, each year, Nova Scotia law requires the Chief Electoral Officer to a publish all the political contributions made in the previous year. For the years 2007, 2008, and 2009, Christine McCulloch complied with the law, posting the information to the Elections Nova Scotia website in a manner that was accessible, searchable, printable, and even, with effort, downloadable to a citizen’s own database.

This gave every citizen the tools to determine whether contractors who won big roadbuilding contracts, storeowners who won liquor commission franchises, or communications consultants (like me!) who were selected for Communications Nova Scotia’s Standing Offer List were also disproportionate donors to the governing party (or any other party). The system was accountable, transparent, and fully compliant with the law and with the province’s website accessibility standards.

This summer, McCulloch quietly kneecapped it.

The data is still there; It’s just that McCulloch has deliberately impaired the citizen’s ability to access it in a useful way. The 2010 political donations appear in a locked, graphic PDF file. This means a citizen can read it, but can’t search for a name, address, donation amount, or any other information it contains, other than by leafing through it. It’s as if Canada411 replaced its searchable database with a hard copy phone book.

In an email, Elections Nova Scotia spokesman Dana Philip Doiron defended the change on grounds that the agency  is ”bound by the Privacy Act, which requires that we guard against misuse of private information — names, addresses, etc.’ [My emphasis.] Doiron didn’t say whether he meant the Nova Scotia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP), or the federal Privacy Act. The latter has no application to the provincial government. Since the Chief Electoral Officer reports to the Speaker of the House of Assembly, it’s extremely doubtful whether the provincial act applies either, even if one excepts the dubious claim that the FOIPOP Act prohibits release of names and addresses specifically mandated by another act.

In any case, the new restrictions don’t shield the names and addresses of donors. They’re all there for anyone willing to take the time and effort to find them. They’re just unsearchable and un-copyable. This makes the information less useful to citizens, researchers, and reporters. Whether McCulloch’s retreat from accessibility is an actual violation of the law requiring disclosure, or merely an affront to its spirit, a skeptical citizen would be forgiven for concluding that she deliberately chose a method of publication that would subvert accessibility, openness, and transparency. The fact that the news release announcing the 2010 donations list failed to disclose the change, and that it listed a link to the document that does not function, doesn’t increase confidence.

It’s extremely disappointing that Ms. McCulloch would behave like this. If the Nova Scotia’s Chief Electoral Officer won’t stand up for transparent and accessible disclosure of political donations, who the heck will?

H/T: Wallace McLean

Wheelchairs unbound

Haligonian Warren Reed objects to the thoughtlessly patronizing word choices many journalists apply to wheelchair-users and those who discriminate them.

In an email to two Chronicle-Herald reporters who recently wrote about separate cases of discrimination by Metro Transit and the Nova Scotia Justice Department against wheelchair users, he complained about three sentences in their stories:

  • “The driver even called his supervisor, who confirmed that wheelchair-bound passengers are not allowed on [Bus No.] 60.”
  • “However, Sunday morning the driver said that he could get in a lot of trouble for letting wheelchair-bound passengers onto non-wheelchair routes.”
  • “Amy Paradis, 16, is quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair.”

Reed wrote:

Evidently, the style manual in use at the Chronicle Herald requires the modification of wheelchair either with “confined” or “bound.” This must be in the chapter on Gratuitous 19th Century Misconceptions.

Bob Sheeny’s wheelchair doesn’t seem to restrain him in any way; What prevents him from visiting his friend is not his disability, but the intransigence of Metro Transit. Without the discriminatory foot-dragging of Metro Transit, Mr. Sheeny would be able to get on any bus in HRM – just as he could in London or New York. It’s not that Mr. Sheeny can’t do things; he’s prevented from doing them.

You should train yourself to use the much more accurate phrase “wheelchair user.”  Wheelchairs are enabling and liberating.

  • Wheelchair users are not allowed on the No. 60 bus.
  • He could get in a lot of trouble for letting wheelchair users onto non-wheelchair routes.
  • Amy Paradis, 16 uses a wheelchair.

Those sentences are not judgmental, and they help clarify the absurdity of the situation. Let me see. Bus drivers can get in trouble for letting passengers on their buses? The important thing about Amy is that she uses a wheelchair, not her medical condition. If you gave a medical opinion every time you mentioned Darrell Dexter or Stephen Harper, you’d be spending most of your time in court.

I recommend substituting these catch-phrases, which are highly accurate:

  • Discriminatory Metro Transit
  • Cliche-ridden Chronicle Herald
  • Proudly backward Halifax officials
  • Patronizing Chronicle Herald reporters
  • Poorly served Chronicle Herald readers

When you see Bob Sheeny, don’t feel sorry for him, just get out of his way.

I’m uncomfortable singling out the Herald here, because I’m sure I’ve used the same stupid phrases without thinking. I bet the reporters in question slapped their heads in dismayed recognition when they read Reed’s sharp letter.

Still, in 2010, there’s no excuse for a newspaper copy desk not having clear and enforced policies on such word choices — as, hopefully, the Herald does now.

What’s the difference between a “no queers” sign and a set of steps?

Haligonian Warren Reed has a sobering take on our discussion about potential “cures” for people with Down syndrome:

I am still stuck on the Down Syndrome thread.  As Canadians with disabilities will tell you, Canada has a medical model of disability. The approach is, “let’s fix what’s wrong with you,” rather than, “let’s fix what’s wrong with us.” Hence the inaccessible buses, devilish sidewalks, and antediluvian building codes. The result is a hidden and large group of people who are disenfranchised, undervalued, ignored, and sometimes abused.  See the shocking account in Monday’s Chronicle-Herald.

One of my big defeats was an unsuccessful complaint against poor building codes I made to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 2006.  I thought it was pretty compelling, but the HRC are evidently a bunch of cowards who declined to get involved in improving lives.

I’m not disappointed anymore—just angry.  Can you explain the difference between a “No Queers” sign and a set of steps confronting a wheelchair user?  Chances are your local MLA maintains an inaccessible constituency office. A government that can’t include it’s most vulnerable citizens loses its moral authority.

This kind of systematic discrimination creates a climate where disabled people are second-class.  Is it a surprise that they’re abused by those who should be protecting them? For people in wheelchairs and people with Down Syndrome Canada is a disappointing, dangerous place.