Activism, Disability Movement, Everyday Heroes

Student Creates Opportunity to Increase #Accessibility of #Federal #Transport System

Today, Pat Martin, NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre, will introduce a Private Member’s Bill calling for an accessibility audit of federally regulated transportation systems.  This initiative results from a high school student competition called Create Your Canada, where students were asked to draft a bill to change the way our country works.  Sam Unrau, a Grade 12 student with disability at Argyle Alternative High School in Winnipeg, is the winner of the competition and his proposed Bill focuses on requiring the Government of Canada to undertake an accessibility audit of all federally regulated transportation systems.

“Sam Unrau, as a high school student, has demonstrated considerable understanding of the barriers people with disabilities face in travelling across Canada.  He gets it, and his good work creates an opportunity for Members of Parliament to address the erosion of access for persons with disabilities in federal transportation systems.  We applaud his efforts and those of Member of Parliament Pat Martin,” said Marie White, Chairperson of CCD.

“If students understand the need for improved access, why doesn’t the Minister of Transport” asks Pat Danforth, Chair of CCD’s Transportation Committee.  “The disability community has been frozen out of any dialogue with Transport Canada for almost 4 years.  CCD’s repeated requests for a meeting with the Minister of Transport over the last four years have all been denied,” stated Danforth.

CCD members have identified numerous recent access issues.  They include:

  • Greater use of small planes that cannot carry a standard wheelchair in the cargo hold.
  • Small plane use means less access to boarding ramps and deplaning onto the tarmac.
  • Inadequate space for guide dogs in flight.
  • Even after winning a 7 year legal battle with VIA Rail over their purchase of inaccessible passenger cars a member of CCD could not travel by train from Toronto to Vancouver for the Paralympics; she had to travel through the United States because their system is regulated for access, in fact they purchase some of their passenger rail cars from Bombardier in Canada because of their accessibility.
  • Introduction of body scanners without any study or determination if they will be accessible.  If not accessible, people with disabilities will be required to submit to the more intrusive “pat down.”
  • Installation by airlines of inaccessible entertainment systems.  The system was accessible to persons with vision impairments before but the new system is not.
  • Although ordered to do so interprovincial bus systems that span neighbouring communities refuse to call out bus stops.

Canada, once a leader in accessibility, has lost considerable ground.  Britain, Australia and the United States all have enforceable access regulations and service providers know what they must do.  Here in Canada we continue with “voluntary codes of practice” and people with disabilities are left with a system where through the complaint system they have to remove one barrier at a time.

“Sam Unrau’s accessibility audit idea is a good one.  We applaud his understanding and the support of Pat Martin.  Let’s hope others in the Government of Canada will take note and act to improve access through the establishment of enforceable regulations,” said Laurie Beachell, National Coordinator of CCD.

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