Monday, November 15, 2010

Canadian government official blasted for having an inaccessible office

From Cnews:

SIMCOE, Ont. - Federal Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley is being blasted in her riding for having a constituency office that is inaccessible to the disabled.

"She keeps making announcements saying the government is doing so much for the disabled, but she doesn't seem to care in her own riding that they don't have access," said Bob Speller, the Liberal candidate who will challenge Finley for the Haldimand-Norfolk seat.

"It goes to show she's not serious about the issue."

Finley is responsible for many policies that affect the disabled, Speller noted.

"She should be setting an example. This is embarrassing."

Access to Finley's office in Simcoe, Ont., located 150 km southwest of Toronto, is gained by going up a few sets of concrete steps and stepping through a door.

A written statement from Finley's office said she is willing to meet disabled constituents off-site and suggested the latest attack from the Liberals comes from self-interest.

"Bob Speller is simply trying to distract from the dismal Liberal record on helping person with disabilities," the statement read. "In fact, Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are constantly voting against support for persons with disabilities such as when they voted against the creation of the historic Registered Disabilities Saving Plan and the Enabling Accessibility Fund."

However, a national umbrella organization that lobbies on behalf of the disabled agrees with Speller.

"As the minister with lead responsibilities on accessibility issues, we encourage her to seek accessible space," said Laurie Beachell, national co-ordinator for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

"She carries the disability file for much of the country."

Beachell said he meets with federal officials frequently, including Finley, to explain the concerns of the country's disabled.

"We know she knows (our concerns about accessibility)," he said.

"I think we need our elected leaders to set an example on accessibility. It's important everyone have equal access to elected officials."

People with disabilities have made gains in public policy over the past 30 years, Beachell noted.

He praised Ottawa's commitment to a new savings plan for the disabled — the Registered Disabilities Saving Plan — which works in a similar way to the Registered Education Savings Plan.

Under the program, the federal government will match on a three-to-one basis payments made to a tax shelter registered in the name of a disabled person.

The money is allowed to grow and when withdrawn will not result in a clawback of government benefits the disabled receive.

"It's a good program," Beachell said.

During his time as MP for Haldimand-Norfolk, Speller had an office on Norfolk Street North. He said it was accessible because it had a ramp leading to the front door.