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Unfair Labour Practice

Few twentieth-century political movements have galvanized black communities into action like the "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaigns. These campaigns sought to boycott stores in black communities that refused to hire black employees. The "Don't Buy" movement used mass protest and direct action tactics such as economic boycotts and picketing as potent political weapons.  

Brilliant! Wheelchair users can take a page from this playbook. I encourage all wheelchair users not to patronize businesses where they can't get a job because of accessibility.  

Oh wait!  They can't get in to shop, so a boycott is meaningless!  

Just another Catch-22 faced by wheelchair users in Halifax, and I've written about it before, as has Contrarian.  Halifax and Nova Scotia enable discrimination against people with disabilities through subtle exceptions to the building code.  Your old building doesn't need to be accessible, so you don't need to hire anyone with a wheelchair.

Last week, an inaccessible business (two steps at the entrance) on Spring Garden Road, exactly  493 meters from where I am writing this, advertised for a sales associate.  An attractive-sounding job, the advertisement ending with this: (emphasis in original):

“Please make sure to drop off your resume and cover letter in person, during business hours and ask to speak with our manager ****.  See you soon :) NO EMAILS PLEASE.”

Because this business is not wheelchair accessible there is a precondition that a wheelchair user cannot meet.  I'm not saying that this employer has to hire a person who uses a wheelchair, just that he shouldn't be able to prevent them from applying.

After I contacted the business owner with some suggestions, including getting a free ramp, the advertisement has disappeared from the website.  They didn't write back.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Act says:
  • (2) No person shall use or circulate a form of application for employment or publish an advertisement in connection with employment or prospective employment or make an inquiry in connection with employment that, directly or indirectly, expresses a limitation, specification or preference or invites information as to a characteristic referred to in clauses (h) to (v).....[Item (o) is physical disability or mental disability]
That's pretty clear.  You can't require wheelchair users to present their job applications in person in an inaccessible location.

What do I propose to do about this?  Not much.  The offending business might get it's wrists slapped by the Human Rights Commission after a lengthy process, but that result would not apply to the literally hundreds of inaccessible businesses in Nova Scotia.  

I know this business is engaged in an unfair practice, and if you can follow the clues, you know who they are.  It's just not worth the effort to tackle a mountain of bias one case at a time.  As I suggested earlier, the best way to remedy this unfairness is through incentives and savings.  It's in our own interest to have accessible businesses, in order to encourage employment and increase retail traffic.  


Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice for Canada, endorsed the Mother Canada Monument with these moving words:

“This Memorial is a wonderful initiative that will give Canadians a steadfast symbol here in our country, to honour the unsurpassed bravery in the name of freedom and liberty, that Canadian soldiers displayed.   This monument makes that symbol of sacrifice more accessible to Canadians.”

The biggest battle I’ve ever faced in my entire life is here at home - Major Mark Campbell
Major Mark Campbell, who had his legs blown off in Afghanistan, would not be able to apply for the job on Spring Garden Road.  Fixing that would be a more fitting monument.


One of the Ivany Report's recommendations/goals is to double the revenue generated by tourism.

A 2015 study by the Open Doors Organization in the US quantifies how much adults with disabilities spend on travel in the US —$17.3 billion annually, and adds that in the past two years alone, more than 26 million adults with disabilities traveled for pleasure and/or business, taking 73 million trips.

So that's 13 million travelers in the US spending $1330 each.  $1773 CDN at today's rate of exchange.

According to NS Tourism Nova Scotia welcomed an estimated 1.8 million overnight visitors in 2013, down three per cent compared to 2012.  In 2010, 9%, or 162,000 were from the USofA

As a wheelchair user, I can say unequivocally that travel in the Maritimes is a pain in the neck. novascotia.com lists 157 of 784 places  to stay as 'wheelchair accessible'.   That's 20% of places, not rooms.  At the Blomidon Inn, a popular Victorian pile in Wolfville, just one room is wheelchair accessible.  novascotia.com has a voluntary program called Access Advisor with standards that are so loose as to be meaningless.  Here's their take on Fully Accessible Requirements:
  • Parking
    • Minimum 1 designated parking space per 100 or adjacent legal street
    • Firm/stable/slip resistant parking surface
    • Space must be clearly marked with an upright or pavement sign
  • Exterior & Interior
    • Path of travel to entrance and throughout interior is firm/stable and slip resistant
    • Areas are well lit and free of tripping hazards
    • Level entrance, or threshold no more than 13 mm (.5″) beveled height
    • Lever/push/pull door handles that can be operated using one hand without tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist
    • Doors require minimal force to open; 3.6 kg (8lbs) or less
    • Clear, easy to read signage (directional & hazard warnings.
    • If stairs are present:
      • Uniform riser height, with closed risers
      • Handrails installed
  • Washrooms
    • Pull handle on both inside and outside of stall door
    • Grab bars installed
    • Controls for taps can be operated using one hand and do not require a firm grasp, pinching or twisting of the wrist
    • Well lit
Compared to the average Holiday Inn, there's a lot missing.  Here's the Holiday Inn in Moncton:
Our ADA-compliant rooms create the most hospitable environment possible for special needs guests. Bathrooms are equipped with many special details, including roll-in shower, lowered light switches and closet rod as well as a roll under sink and safety bars.  We have five of these rooms available and some are connected to a traditional guest room in case you are traveling with an attendant. All of our hotel signage feature Braille in both English and French. The Holiday Inn Express Airport Dieppe is fully ADA-compliant. Our accessible rooms feature an extra-wide entrance door, extra maneuvering room and we have several ability items on hand if you need them (by request). Please specify your needs at time of booking.
A modest goal might be to attract another 162,000 visitors from the US.  At $1773 a pop, people with disabilities would be an interesting target group.  So let's see, 162,000 x $1773 x 15% is $43,083,900 in HST revenue.  All those aging baby boomers who have come to depend on well-laid-out washrooms would love Nova Scotia's charms.  If only there was a place to stay.....

Let's be generous to our job creators and invest half that through forgivable loans to tourist accommodations that meet a useful standard for people with disabilities.  Not fancy, just reliably useful. The Americans have done the heavy lifting - we know what an accessible room should look like.  

An extremely generous $10,000 per room would increase the availability of accessible rooms by 2,154 every year.  In a 100 day season, that's 200,000 visits.  Word would get around.  Here's a curve we can be in front of, instead of always playing catch-up ball.

Unlike Laurel Broten's bad deal with RBC, the $21 million won't end up in Bay Street.  The money will all get spent here, on a rapidly growing segment of tourism.  

Snow Job

Paul Vienneau, Halifax's secret weapon 
Two hours and eight minutes into the lengthy Committee of the Whole meeting on August 4, held to discuss the report on winter operations, Councillor Gloria McCluskey said this:

"...and one of the  big problems too, for residents; the buses were hauled off the road so often.  You know, I never heard of that, and I guess that told us something, when buses were not able to operate.  Residents couldn't get to work.  They were docked pay and even lost their jobs sometimes."

Even allowing for hyperbole, that is a startling admission.  People lost their jobs because HRM didn't do theirs.  To the credit of Council, the meeting laid bare a fault line in the way HRM is governed.

Because the Winter Operations Report was conceived and executed as an administrative exercise, practical considerations like getting to work take a back seat to accounting problems like the capacity to handle 311 calls.  You or I would think first of removing the reasons for the 311 calls.  More shoveling means less calling.  But the report's primary recommendation is increasing 311 staff.  If only we could count our mistakes better.......

In a similar way, the report discusses standards without reference to purpose.  As the Accessibility Advisory Committee pointed out, main arterials cleared in 12 hours and adjacent sidewalks in 48 makes no sense if the goal is getting people to work.  It makes sense if the goal is to force people to take automobiles and increase traffic congestion.  When snow removal is just a public relations problem, we hardly remember why we're doing it in the first place.  Like the snow report, HRM policy is often framed in terms of administrative detail, never referencing overarching goals.  

Welcome to my world.  For a month this winter you were 'mobility-challenged' as they say, not because of some inherent problem you have, but because of someone else's ineptitude.  Never mind the snow and ice, people with disabilities face needless barriers every day, even in mid-August, 2015.   

The disconnect between practicalities and purpose is a real problem in Halifax.  Take the pedestrian / vehicle encounters, which we blithely blame on bad drivers, bad pedestrians and bad alignment of the planets, never considering the bad design that is the biggest problem.  We paint lines to use up the paint supply, not aware that the two parallel lines of a crosswalk are nearly invisible to oncoming traffic.  We renew curb cuts according to a random set of priorities and a standard found nowhere else on earth.  We should use paint so drivers can see the crosswalk.  Our curb cuts should expedite safe crossing and allow easy snowplowing.  

Over the years, wheelchair users in particular have come to understand that the reason so little changes in Halifax is because there is so little accountability. Leadership is thwarted.  Our form of government seems to discourage the kind of cross-departmental discussion that can solve complicated problems. We throw up our hands when our right-of-way bylaw runs headlong into the need for access to business.  We're smarter than that, we can figure it out.

People have very simple goals: personal safety, health, getting ahead, getting around, fair treatment.  Everything government does should advance those goals.  A well-designed sidewalk or transit system is not only a way to get around; they enhance public safety, and further commerce.  When a snowy sidewalk is just an accounting problem, its purpose is forgotten.  

People with disabilities have unconscionable unemployment rates.  Our municipal services make it worse, as McCluskey candidly admitted.

We should take this opportunity to re-examine the basic structure of city government.  We don't care about blame, but we want accountability.  We need to figure out how to get our operations to match our aspirations.  

Our Councillors, are elected to execute our wishes.  When they don't, we usually get around to electing someone else.  This is accountability.  Departments need to report to Council, so they can report to us.  No one likes to fire anyone, but when no one is fired, no one is held accountable and citizens are let down.  And we don't want the guy (it probably is a guy) who's stuck with executing a bad plan.  We want the guy who's preventing good planning. World-class cities don't disappoint their citizens.