Clayton Dauphinee shakes his head as he thinks back to planning road trips with his aging parents around the known locations of accessible washrooms.
“I would take them every day for a drive, and I had to find locations where I could get my parents in to use the washroom,” he said.
The hunt for barrier-free or accessible facilities in public places has since evolved into somewhat of a crusade for the retired plumber.
He’s studied building and plumbing codes to become well versed on the relevant regulations outlined for both disciplines.
He learned how to be an ambassador through a Rick Hansen Foundation accessibility program.
He’s taken photos of more than 120 instances of public places in Nova Scotia that fall short of accessibility, barrier-free or plumbing standards in the last 14 months.
All of the data gets tucked away in a box full of folders stuffed with files he’s collected, records of contacts he’s made.
He’s reached the point that he might even know the problem better than the back of his own hand.
But it’s a solution he’s after.
“These people deserve better than what they’re getting,” the 68-year-old said in a recent interview.
‘We’re all human beings’
Dauphinee wants to see stricter enforcement of building and plumbing code standards related to accessibility in public spaces.
“It doesn’t really inconvenience us but to (people with disabilities), it does. And this is what I’m trying to get out.”
The Berwick resident gets particularly frustrated when he comes across washrooms in newer buildings that don’t meet the standards outlined in the Nova Scotia Building Code.
“I was concerned when I came home and I couldn’t get my parents into washrooms, but then who do you approach?”
He’s cast a wide net in an attempt to answer that last question, speaking with government employees, community organizations, local politicians, etc.
Originally from the Middleton are, Dauphinee returned to his roots in 2009 after moving west for work in 1968. He’s undertaken the bulk of his advocacy work in the last 18 months.
“I’m just a concerned human being that cares about my fellow people,” said Dauphinee.
“We’re all human beings.”
He hopes the days of accepting the status quo when it comes to accessibility in public spaces are numbered.
“We can do better than we’re doing.”
Access is more than an ‘add-on’
Cynthia Bruce tends to agree.
“It’s not an uncommon concern. I think it’s certainly a significant issue across the province and it will absolutely be something that the director looks at through the processes around legislation implementation,” said Bruce, a member of the provincial Accessibility Advisory Board.
“Part of our task is to develop standards.”
The group is tasked with overseeing the development of recommendations regarding potential accessibility standards and legislation to pass along to the provincial Minister of Justice for consideration.
Bruce, an educator at Acadia University and blind activist, is primarily focused on the education piece.
“There’s also a general sense that we don’t have a good understanding of what accessibility means. It’s not uncommon for people to go to places that indicate that they’re accessible and then they find that they’re not,” she said in a phone interview March 7.
“We have a pretty narrow understanding around what access means in public spaces, so there’s going to be lots of work to do around public education.”
The advisory committee was established as part of a larger goal to achieve accessibility throughout Nova Scotia by 2030.
“We have to prioritize accessibility in all that we’re doing,” said Bruce, listing employment, education, built environments, and goods and services as examples.
“We really need to prioritize access. We can’t continue to think of it as an add-on, something that we do if we can afford to do it, because we have a significant portion of our population… simply prevented from participating in all kinds of the life of our province when we’re not attentive to access.”
‘Feeling like an outsider’
Sharon McInnis is too familiar with how it feels to be on the outside looking in.
“A lot of places don’t have ramps. They have steps and it’s so hard because if you want to go into that building to buy something… you can’t, and then you’re sitting there feeling like an outsider,” she said in a phone interview March 7.
“It’s like, ‘we’re in 2019 and it’s still this way?’ It should really be more accessible for everyone.”
The New Minas resident was paralyzed decades ago when her eight-year-old body was crushed by a wayward car while she was standing on a friend’s lawn. She suffered a broken neck, spinal cord, hip and leg and worked hard to regain the use of her arms and hands in the long period of recovery following the crash.
She’s learned to adapt to many things since the accident, but the feeling of exclusion is not one of them.
“It just makes you feel right down and depressed at times and you don’t know what to do about it.”
She says there are some things businesses can do to offer a temporary solution.
“For the time being, if they wanted to, they could just put a portable ramp down where they could lift it off when that person goes in and then they can have their steps available to the people that can walk in,” she said.
“It would make it so much easier. You’d feel like you’re more a part of the community than the way it is now.”
She recommends that wheelchair accessible bathrooms be designed, or upgraded, with both push and motorized chairs in mind.
“A motorized chair is much bigger, and I don’t know how many times – I can’t even count on one hand – that I’ve gone into different washrooms and they’re not big enough to even close the door for a motorized wheelchair,” she said.
McInnis said she’s noticed that some people are shy to ask if she wants help, but she wants the public to know that it’s OK to reach out.
“If somebody sees someone in a wheelchair that might need assistance, don’t be afraid to go up and ask them.”
Accessibility grants available
The members of a provincial advisory board’s standard development committee strictly focusing on improvements to the built environment will soon be named, said Nova Scotia Accessibility Directorate senior policy analyst Joshua Bates via email.
“The mandate of the Built Environment SDC is to develop recommendations for the content and implementation of a proposed accessibility standard to prevent and remove barriers to accessibility within the built environment,” he said.
“’Built environment’ means the human-made space in which people live, work, learn and play and includes buildings, rights-of-way and outdoor spaces.”
The committee will be reviewing the Nova Scotia Building Code and, in particular, examining a grandfather clause pertaining to buildings that existed before the code included accessibility standards. The grandfather clause, Bates noted, no longer applies to restaurant washrooms following a recent order released by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
“We know that lack of knowledge and enforcement of the accessibility components within the Building Code is a real issue,” said Bates, who added that the standard development committee will also work to increase awareness.
The provincial government is offering a Business ACCESS-Ability Grant Program that covers up to two-thirds of the costs of approved modifications.