Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able bodied, it is just second nature to walk up a few steps, step up or off a curb, trudge through snow or open and close a door. For people with disabilities, these are barriers they face every day.
Last week, it took someone in this community who is physically challenged to draw our attention to one glaring example of an accessibility issue many of us have likely never considered. Amherstâ€™s historic courthouse continues to be used by the Department of Justice in this county and yet the 130-year-old building is inaccessible to most folks with a physical impairment.
Jim Mitchell has long been an advocate for persons with disabilities and when he was summoned to jury duty he encountered a situation that has become all too familiar to him â€“ the inequality he and others with physical disabilities face every day. He was being denied his right to participate in the judicial process simply because there is apparently no way of accommodating his needs.
I wholehearted agree with Mitchell that the courthouse doesnâ€™t only impact the physically challenged, but also seniors who canâ€™t negotiate the stairs to the courtroom. Thatâ€™s simply not right considering our age demographics in this county.
There are certainly no easy or inexpensive solutions to the existing problem, but at least Mitchellâ€™s decision to go to the media recently has drawn a positive response from the province with justice officials prepared to discuss the issue with him.
If it is any consolation for Mitchell and other Nova Scotians with disabilities, Nova Scotia is on the road to become the third province to pass a disabilities act that would ensure accessibility. The Liberal government has promised to appoint an Accessibility Advisory Committee with a mandate and strict timeline to develop accessibility legislation for Nova Scotia. A Disability Act would set accessibility standards which businesses and organizations would be forced to follow. The proposed legislation is long overdue.
Some may think it is an unrealistic goal, but persons with disabilities have a right to live in a society free of barriers. That is enshrined in the equality rights of our constitution and is also contained in the human rightâ€™s code of every Canadian province. All of us will reach that stage in our lives when weâ€™ll be relying on assistive devices of some sort. Only then will we truly appreciate what its like to have to struggle daily with physical barriers and limitations.
Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.