Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Frustration With Accessibility at New School

Dear Editor,

This is my second sleepless night. I remain quite stunned that the Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB) would construct a new school in Meaford and have two front exits that are inaccessible. In 2021 why would not all exits be accessible? The school board is unbending – “a percentage of exits are accessible therefore we are compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)” and we will not change the exits.

In a Municipality which strives to improve accessibility with sterling examples such as Meaford Hall and the new Meaford Public Library, it is hard to fathom such a draconian institution as the school board. In Meaford we have an active accessibility committee that is consulted regularly so the Municipality gets accessibility right. Do you know the Municipality has changed the process for policies and procedures so an accessibility focus is always considered? Every public institute in Ontario should have similar committees.

I really could care less of the BWDSB is “officially” compliant. Ethically, they are extremely wrong. Those inaccessible exits say more than may be evident to the Board. Those exits are signs of exclusion. They say to me you don’t value your students with disabilities – if you did, someone would have noticed this gross error before construction. It also tells me that the Board is too insular and self-contained which for a place of learning is tragic. We were given contradictory excuses and then shut down by being told “we are compliant”. We were also told it is unfortunate our definition of accessibility does not match the Board’s – so much for experiential learning – 50 years in a chair does not give credibility in the Board’s view. We didn’t bother to say my husband who is in a chair, used to be carried up the stairs by fellow students at GBSS to attend classes, also has a background in Architectural technology. I have a rehabilitation background and have been a recognized accessibility advocate for many years. I think we have earned the right to say when a place is violating the spirit of accessibility.

I would recommend the Board put together an accessibility committee to help its obvious lack of understanding and empathy in issues of accessibility and inclusion. Grey and Bruce Counties are full of very knowledgeable people who would be willing to assist the Board to improve. I would even say the BWDSB has the potential to be a leading school board in accessibility and inclusion but you need to ask for help from those with lived experience. If not, your defence will always be “policy” and “compliance”. In the past few weeks, we have seen where following poor policies, in relation to vulnerable people such as children with disabilities leads – it is never effective, always hurtful and often dangerous. Bluewater District School Board needs to change.

Mary Solomon, Meaford

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