July 8, 2021
By Helen Solmes
The new Georgian Bay Community School (GBCS) that is scheduled to open in September falls short of being fully accessible to people with disabilities, according to Mary Solomon in a Letter to the Editor, The Meaford Independent, June 30, 2021.
In today’s world where concerted effort is being made to remove barriers for people with disabilities, Mary and her husband Geoff Solomon are struggling to understand why the new school is not fully accessible.
Accessibility has been a lifelong battle for Geoff, whose time in a wheelchair dates back to his high school years. He knows the challenges disabled people face in public buildings. He and Mary have served in various capacities to advocate for accessibility.
When the construction fences came down around the new school in June, Mary and Geoff did a walkabout and were alarmed when they found two doors at the front of the building on both sides of the main door that a person in a wheelchair would not be able to access. They contacted staff members and a trustee of the Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB) to express their concerns. The response was disheartening, according to Mary.
“We were told that a percentage of the exits are accessible and thus the school is in compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act,” she said.
BWDSB Superintendent of Business Services and Treasurer Rob Cummings, has provided a statement to The Meaford Independent in response to the Solomon’s letter stating: “Our architect, contractor, and Bluewater District School Board rely on the guidance and direction provided by Ontario legislation regarding building code, fire code, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), and a range of other requirements. We have fully followed the rules set out by the Acts.
“Georgian Bay Community School is fully accessible and includes three barrier free entrances and exits, including the main front entrance, an entrance on the north for the EarlyON child care location, and an east entrance for access to the recreational area.”
Mary questions why BWDSB would build a school that is not fully accessible. “Nothing in the new school should be inaccessible,” she said. “Why build a new school and not make it fully accessible? I really could care less if the BWDSB is officially compliant. Ethically, they are extremely wrong. This in 2021.”
Mary serves on the Municipality of Meaford Accessibility Committee. She has advised the municipality on the challenges disabled people face. She recommends that the BWDSB form a similar advisory committee. “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,” she said.