Province takes heat for inaccessibility of Halifax courthouse, agrees to signage

Accessibility advocates criticize N.S. over access to the Halifax provincial court
WATCH: The Halifax provincial court building is considered accessible by the province, but some say reaching the top floor can be an exhausting ordeal. Elizabeth McSheffrey has more.

Accessibility advocates are challenging the provincial government’s claim that the courthouse on Spring Garden Road in Halifax is an accessible building.

To start, they point out, there’s no signage instructing users of its outdoor ramp on how to get through the locked side-door using an unmarked buzzer.

And unless one’s inability to use the stairs is clearly visible, they add, a person with mobility needs must request permission from a sheriff to use one of two restricted elevators, and explain their need for it.

Once access to the top floor is granted, the person must then wait for an available sheriff to escort them back down — a wait that could last a while if the courthouse is busy.

“When you get in there, you’re just like where am I supposed to go, what am I supposed to do?” said Skarlet Young, who made a painstaking climb up the Halifax provincial court stairs last week.

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“Nobody should have to ask where the accessible entrance is, I mean accessibility is a right it should be clearly marked, and again, it’s a government building.”

READ MORE: Human rights complaint filed against HRM over accessible parking

Young suffers from a neuromuscular disorder called Friedreich’s Ataxia, which compromises her ability to walk. She said the height and width of the staircase railing is also a problem: it’s so low she has to bend over to grip it, and so wide that she can’t really grip it at all.

But using the elevators requires accompaniment and special permission, and that means it isn’t truly accessible, she told Global News.

“They escort you on and they escort you off to the top floor, and well, I mean, last time I checked, if I need somebody else to do it, it wasn’t accessible.”

Paul Vienneau, an accessibility advocate and consultant for the Halifax Regional Municipality, agreed.

“If you come in the door and you have to search for somebody with a magical key, that’s not really accessible, because everybody else can take for granted walking in the door, going up and doing what they need to do,” he said.

WATCH: Nova Scotia rewrites accessibility act, sets goal for 2030 (April 24, 2017)

In response to Global News’ reporting on this story, the Nova Scotia Justice Department committed to putting signage explaining use of accessibility features at the Halifax provincial court.

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It also said the heritage building, built in the mid-1800s, will be examined for possible upgrades as it moves towards its 2030 provincial accessibility targets.

“Access to justice is a priority for government, and that includes ensuring our spaces are accessible for all Nova Scotians,” wrote spokesperson Sarah Levy MacLeod in an emailed statement.

“As for our sheriffs – they know our spaces well and have touchpoints with every person who enters our buildings. Anyone who requires assistance at any of our court locations should speak to a sheriff when they arrive.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia announces plans to support accessibility law passed in 2017

The provincial government passed its Accessibility Act in 2017, with the goal of making Nova Scotia more accessible to those with mobility challenges by 2030. The act doesn’t explicitly define accessibility, but it’s currently in the process of creating accessibility standards for education and the built environment.

Its plan to achieve those goals, announced in September 2018, further outlines equitable access to buildings as a priority.