More representation for disabled Iqalummuit: disabilities advocacy group
“We need to be involved more in the public”
Iqaluit must become more accessible to disabled people, Wendy Ireland, executive director of the Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtit Society, told Iqaluit City Council July 10.
To that end, she’s calling for the establishment of an accessibility committee for disabled people in Nunavut.
Ireland, who uses a wheelchair, presented comments and suggestions from a workshop with 50 disabled Nunavummiut that met March 28 in Rankin Inlet.
City council met at the Abe Okpik Hall in Apex instead of its usual space on the second floor of the old arena, which is inaccessible to disabled people
To get to the current city council chambers, people must walk up two flights of stairs — just one example of Iqaluit’s inaccessibility to disabled people.
“Some of the themes that came up, some of them are easy to address. Those things are mostly physical barriers, ramps, and automatic barriers. I just had a heck of a time even coming up this ramp,” Ireland said of the Abe Okpik hall’s wheelchair ramp.
Ireland also talked about public education, awareness, training, job creation, and community inclusion.
“We talked a lot about inclusion in the [March] meeting. A strong consensus was that inclusion is an Inuit value that is highly regarded,” Ireland said.
Ireland said there are about 3,000 disabled people living in Nunavut.
Noah Papatsie, a board member of Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtit Society, also spoke to city council. He’s blind, and wants more representation for disabled people in the community.
“I want to see a city committee involved in disabilities created under council, run by the city of Iqaluit,” Papatsie said through a translator.
“There’s no public place we can gather. No place we can ask if we need something. That needs to be created. We need to be involved more in the public,” he said.
Ireland said accessibility committees are common in most cities and towns. She added that building accessibility measures into new buildings saves money in the long run.
“If you catch accessibility issues at the beginning, life is cheaper. It becomes a lot more expensive trying to bring it in retroactively,” said Ireland.
Ireland’s and Papatsie’s proposal for a committee were met with praise from the councillors.
“It’s hard to say this without feeling embarrassed because there are so many accessibility issues with the city buildings themselves. But that being said, the future plans for the city all include very significant, accessible [access],” Coun. Romeyn Stevenson said.
Coun. Stephen Mansell said public buildings have to be accessible these days, but some private buildings are falling by the wayside.
“This is a good group that we don’t hear enough from. We have an election coming up in October. Once that happens, all the committees start from scratch, so maybe this council could establish the committee,” Mansell said.
Mary Wilman said the presence of the group at city council is a positive move for those who don’t or can’t voice their opinions.
“We need to hear more often from the Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtit Society. We need to hear all the issues. Sometimes we forget. We need to be reminded,” Wilman said.
The Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtit Society is the only disabled advocacy group in Nunavut. It gets funding from the Government of Nunavut of about $100,000 a year, to pay for office space and a staff member.