Budget trumps human rights

Asking students in wheelchairs to put their human rights on hold until the next fiscal year is ludicrous, say opposition critics.

Asking students in wheelchairs to put their human rights on hold until the next fiscal year is ludicrous, say opposition critics.

The government is sitting on a huge cash surplus.

But it’s not replacing a wheelchair lift at FH Collins until April, said Liberal MLA Don Inverarity.

That’s completely unacceptable, he said.

“A government that’s not willing to spend $25,000 when it’s sitting on $100 million in the bank is ludicrous.

“Human rights issues aside, I find the fact that they wouldn’t go out and replace this wheelchair lift difficult to understand.”

The school should also have wheelchair accessible doors installed — a problem that was identified three years ago by the Canada Winter Games universal access committee, said Inverarity.

“What do they need to fix these things? An invitation?

“You can’t go into any government building today without it having those push-button doors. In fact, if I’m not mistaken it’s actually one of the tendering requirements for leasing space to the government.”

The problem should be fixed immediately, said NDP Education critic Steve Cardiff.

There’s no excuse for asking the students or the staff working with them to wait, he said.

“This is just not acceptable.”

A shared resources program designed to integrate children with special needs and physical disabilities into the school was initiated at FH Collins in September.

Two of the students are in wheelchairs, but the lift to the library and music room has been broken since mid-August.

The school has three wheelchair ramps, but no automatic wheelchair-accessible doors.

Since the school year began, one of the students has been scooped out of their chair and carried while staff “bumps” their wheelchair down the stairs.

Staff assists the other, who has some mobility with the use of a cane, while they navigate the stairs on foot.

The lift had been receiving repairs from the government’s property management agency for the last few years, but was deemed unfixable in late August.

Replacing the lift, estimated at $25,000, is not in this year’s budget and will be fixed next April, said Education officials last week.

The lift was not identified as a problem until just before school began, so there was little time to come up with alternatives, said Miki Deuling Kenyon, co-ordinator of the Education department’s special programs unit.

The lift was working for the year and a half of planning that was done by Education staff in anticipation of the disabled students arrival at FH. It was a little surprising when it broke, she said.

“What they did is attempt to get the parts they needed to fix the wheelchair lift and discovered it’s too old and they can’t get the parts.”

The lack of wheelchair-accessible doors was unfortunately missed in the planning, she added.

“We overlooked that.”

Lifting students out of their wheelchairs has not been deemed the best course of action, she said.

Having them go outside in the winter cold has also been ruled out, she added.

Some ideas to deal with the situation include bringing the band and the school’s librarian from their areas to the shared resources students’ room.

The shared resources program, which includes life skills, social-skills building and assisting youth with special medical needs, is constantly changing.

As students get older, they move from one school to another, said Kenyon.

In the case of FH Collins, the program was running four years ago, but was put on hold until the next group of students reached high-school age.

Facilities are updated on an as-needed basis, she said.

“What we’ve done over the last 15 years is address things as the need arises.”

Education minister Patrick Rouble did not return phone calls.