Having a disability means being frequently unable to participate in activities other people take for granted. It also means confronting negative attitudes and reactions, which can be very challenging.
During our daily routines, we often pull into mall or restaurant parking lots and find designated parking spaces which appear to be readily available for wheelchair users. However, accessible parking is only one consideration that accommodates people with physical disabilities. There are many able-bodied people who use these spaces and are seldom confronted by premises’ owners for abusing this provision.
In serving the needs of our membership and promoting equity, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) believes that barrier-free offices and meeting rooms enable all members to participate fully in federation activities.
To begin the journey to accessibility, a simple checklist can establish accomplishments and identify needed improvements. Consider the following:
- Is your local office on the ground floor? If not, is there an elevator or a ramp?
- Does your office have designated wheelchair parking available?
- Can a person in a wheelchair enter your office without assistance?
- Are any of the washrooms wheelchair accessible?
- Are there accommodations made for members with hearing or visual disabilities?
- When meetings are held outside the local offices, are accessibility issues addressed?
Recently, ETFO’s Provincial Executive surveyed locals regarding barrier-free access to buildings. Preliminary results indicate that some locations such as Peel and Upper Canada are fully accessible. According to Upper Canada President Randy Frith, their location is ideal for a number of reasons. Due to its location in a mall, ample parking is provided. Since federal government offices once occupied the building, several steps were taken to make the location accessible. For example, there is an elevator, corridors are very wide and there are user-friendly curbs and railings. Meeting rooms for large groups continue to pose a problem since it is difficult to find a central location with a large room that is also barrier-free.
In York Region, President Pam Gillan reports their office building is equipped to accommodate people with disabilities, but though there are provisions made for accessibility, these are not always obvious. For example, the elevator access is a separate one in a different location than the entrance used by ambulatory individuals.
Some locals are situated in offices that are not fully accessible. However, this concern has been identified and executives are working hard to address the needs. Waterloo, for example, has two office spaces; one on the ground floor and another on the second floor. Local Vice-President Patti Monteith Bering says they maintained the accessible ground floor space knowing the second floor would not accommodate all their members’ needs. At a recent executive meeting, a motion was passed “That ETFO Executive meetings be held in an accessible location in the new year. ” The Waterloo executive is also looking at relocating to a fully accessible building.
Several locals have identified the need for change. The leaders know the issues and are committed to making their offices and meeting rooms accessible.
Finally, a major step forward took place on November 3, 1999 when Queen’s Park MPPs unanimously adopted a Liberal resolution calling for a law to remove barriers to disabled people within two years 2.
ETFO’s Workgroup on Disabilities and Accommodations invites members to describe and share their personal experiences with disability and accommodation issued. We can all benefit from | learning about the real life struggles and successes of our colleagues who live with physical and mental disabilities, it is our hope and goal to develop action plans that make our organization, schools and communities more inclusive. Please send your stories to the Workgroup c/o Sherry Ramrattan Smith at ETFO’s Provincial Office.
2 Toronto Star: Wednesday, November 24, 1999