Toronto election: Voter blasts lack of wheelchair accessibility at Ward 5 debate

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Voter blasts lack of wheelchair accessibility at Toronto Ward 5 debate
WATCH ABOVE: Al Reeves was hoping an all-candidates debate would help him decide which Ward 5 candidate to vote for. But when he arrived at the venue, he was unable to attend due to a lack of wheelchair accessibility. The organizers said they made a mistake by holding it there. Matthew Bingley reports – Oct 11, 2018

Accessibility advocate Al Reeves says he was prevented from attending an election event because of his wheelchair.

Speaking to Global News on Thursday, Reeves said he decided to drop by a Ward 5 debate Wednesday evening with the hopes of learning more about his council candidates’ plans.

But when he arrived at the Royal Canadian Legion where the debate was held, Reeves said he couldn’t get in.

“I’m on this vestibule entrance and there are about nine stairs or more in front of me,” Reeves said.

“One of the coordinators came down and said, ‘Oh, can we carry you up the stairs?’ and I thought, ‘No one is carrying myself and my [wheel]chair up anywhere.'”

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The building may have had a wheelchair ramp outside, but the accessibility ended there, leaving Reeves stuck in the lobby.

“They brought down a paper so I could write in my question and one of the staff took it up and posed it to the councillors, but I couldn’t hear any of their answers,” Reeves said.

Reeves said his complaint isn’t with the location and its lack of ramps, but that the debate should have never been held there in the first place.

The debate was organized by local volunteer groups — including the Mount Dennis Community Association. The association’s secretary, Simon Chamberlain, said the Royal Canadian Legion was chosen to host the debate because it was budget-friendly.

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“We didn’t have the budget to book one of the schools and the legion is a very central location,” Chamberlain said.

Global News contacted organizers of several other Toronto debates and found that they were held in accessible locations.

Chamberlain admits that Ward 5’s pick for a location was a mistake.

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“It was an error of judgement. We shouldn’t have done it and we won’t be doing it again,” Chamberlain said.

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Accessibility advocate David Lepofsky, on the other hand, isn’t surprised by Ward 5’s snafu. He told Global News problems like this one keep popping up during elections.

“All candidates debates convened by community groups in inaccessible venues, there’s no excuse for it,” Lepofsky said. “It’s inexcusable to deny the basic human rights of voters with disabilities. No candidate should ever agree to attend such an event.”

Reeves agreed, saying he got “really ticked off” he said the candidates agreed to meet in an inaccessible location.

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Ward 5 candidates who were at the debate acknowledged the issue.

Frances Nunziata’s campaign apologized, saying in a statement that she and other candidates should have made sure it was accessible.

Her opponent, Frank Di Giorgio, said he didn’t know about the issue but will make sure all future events have access.

Newcomer Chiara Padovani said the mistake highlights a greater issue in Ward 5 that needs to be addressed after the election.

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