Kids in wheelchairs treated like second class citizens

Wheelchair-bound youth at FH Collins will have to deal with being physically carried up and down steps until the next fiscal year.

Wheelchair-bound youth at FH Collins will have to deal with being physically carried up and down steps until the next fiscal year.

That’s a six-month wait.

At least two handicapped students who are new to the school are having mobility issues because the wheelchair lift to the library and music room is broken, said a source who spoke to the News on a condition of anonymity.

“There are two kids in wheelchairs. One is confined full-time in a wheelchair and the other one is part-time in a wheelchair and uses a cane.

 “One of the students is taken out of the wheelchair and carried down the stairs and put on the floor while the staff bumps the wheelchair down on the stairs,” the source said.

“The other student is taken out of their wheelchair and walks down the stairs with the assistance of the staff. That wheelchair is (also) bumped down the stairs as well.”

The students are part of the school’s shared-resource program, which is meant to integrate disabled students into the school.

The program is in its first year at FH Collins. The lift has been broken since before the school year began.

While the facility has three wheelchair ramps to enter the building, none of the entrances have automatic doors.

The broken wheelchair lift was identified as a problem last summer and will be fixed in April 2008, said Dale Enzenauer, facilities project manager for the Education department.

“(The government’s) property management agency has been fixing it for the last couple of years,” he said.

“It was identified to us this summer that it couldn’t be repaired and we received an estimate, I believe in about late August, that to replace it will cost about $25,000.

“Our contingency is quite low, so we’ve issued a work request so that it be completed in the first month of the 08/09 fiscal year, in April of 2008.

“It will be fixed between April 1 and April 30.”

With the wheelchair ramps, students can go outside to bypass the broken lift, said Enzenauer.

Disabled people who may have problems opening the non-automated doors may have to wait for help, he added.

“Until such time as we fix this lift, if they need to get to the library or the music room they’ll need to go outside. It’s all sloped outside.

“It just means that probably someone will have to open the door for them. The grades are wheelchair accessible.”

The students involved in FH Collins’ shared-resources program require constant supervision and have an aide with them at all times who would be able to open the door, he added.

Automated doors that open with the press of a button have not yet been contemplated for the school, but could be installed as early as next summer, added Enzenauer.

“Actually we haven’t discussed it, we haven’t discussed the need for it. But that’s a good point. It’s probably something that should be done if we have this program in the school.

“We would evaluate that for our 2008/09 capital program. There’s a good possibility that we could do this in the summer of 2008.

“The thing of it is, we operate on a budget cycle. We don’t have unlimited deep pockets.”

Asking disabled students to go out in the cold of winter to access parts of the school their schoolmates can get to indoors is not acceptable, said Rick Goodfellow, executive director of Challenge Community Vocational Alternatives and chairman of the city’s disability advisory committee.

What’s worse, the Canada Winter Games universal access committee recommended automated doors and deemed the lift unsafe in 2004, said Goodfellow.

Making students wait until next year to have equal access to all parts of the school just isn’t right, he said.

“This is ‘how do we create second-class citizens really quickly?’ and that’s how you do it.

“There still needs to be a sense of dignity for people. You don’t ask other people to do that kind of thing so don’t ask someone with a disability to do it either.”

The problem should have been fixed years ago given the fact that FH Collins is a government-run facility, he added.

“They’ve got a lift in there and it should be working, and it should be working properly. There is no option; there is no compromise on this thing.

“The Yukon government should be setting an example and taking a leadership role with this stuff.

“They shouldn’t be letting something lapse and saying, ‘We’ll fix it in the next cycle and in the meantime it’s too bad about those kids.’”

Involving disabled persons in FH Collins’ student life is desirable, but those students should have been accommodated, said Kim Hague, the executive director of the Yukon Council on Disability.

“It’s a tough one because it’s great to see that this program is running. I think it’s a great program and I don’t think every school has that.

“But, I have to say, if they have students in wheelchairs then they should have equal access — everything should be accessible.”

“I would think the lift should be fixed. I can understand if there’s no one there in wheelchairs it can wait to be fixed, but if there’s something there that can help these students more it should be up and working.”