© Derek Montague
The wheelchair ramp at the Green Street Mini Mart is piled high with snow, making it inaccessible. Under provincial legislation, however, buildings that were built before 1981 do not have to comply with accessibility regulations.
The Labrador Mini Mart on Green Street has a wheelchair ramp. But for much of the winter, it has been completely inaccessible.
The snow has been allowed to pile up high on the ramp, even though the steps remain shoveled and salted. Green Street Mini Mart Supervisor Claudette Pardy says the ramp has been that way since it first snowed.
"I guess there's nobody to clear it, I'm not clearing it," says Pardy. "I have not been instructed to. They do not send anybody around to do anything. I'll clean off the steps and that's it."
Goose Bay resident Allen Simms noticed the state of the wheelchair ramp one evening and took a photo. He shared the photo on facebook, where many of his friends posted comments.
"Shameful it is," said one facebook user.
"How you gonna get in the store now?" asked another.
Simms is concerned about building accessibility in Goose Bay. He has a grandfather with a physical disability and strongly believes all buildings should have ramps for those who need to use them.
"It just irritated me," says Simms. "If I wanted to bring my grandfather to the store, I couldn't."
Simms says he didn't post the photo to shame Labrador Mini Mart. He has noticed that the problem exists elsewhere in town, such as at a local daycare, among other places.
"They (disabled people) got the same rights as anybody else," says Simms. "This is an ongoing problem in Goose Bay."
The store on Green Street isn't the only Mini Mart that has had problems with wheelchair accessibility. The Mini Mart on Markland Road has no ramp at all, for example. But Paul Snelgrove, the owner of all five Mini Marts in Goose Bay, doesn't defend the fact that the ramp at Green Street is inaccessible.
"Obviously, it should be cleared...there's no excuse for it. It should be cleared," Snelgrove told The Labradorian.
Businesses and other public buildings are required to make their premises accessible to the physically disabled, but there are exceptions. Buildings that were granted a permit before Dec.24, 1981, are exempted from the provincial legislation. Paul Snelgrove believes that his stores fall under that category, due to the age of his buildings.
"Over the years I've had some requests from provincial government departments to have accessibility for different places," says Snelgrove. "But obviously it comes up to my own decision making because, again, back to that stipulation of what's required and what's not. They can bring it to my attention but the rules are the rules."
Snelgrove originally built the ramp on the Green Street store because of a customer request 12 years ago. He says the cost was more than $4,000.
"We did the one at Green Street at substantial cost...because somebody in the area said that they had someone in a wheelchair who had to have accessibility," says Snelgrove. "But as far as I know if hasn't been used in a long time."
Nick McGrath, Minister of Service NL, told The Labradorian the 1981 building exemption exists because the building accessibility regulations came into effect that year. And it would have been impossible for the provincial government to force business owners and building operators to completely renovate properties that were built under an older code.
"You just wouldn't be able to enforce, in a province our size, and the geography the way it is, with so much older buildings to enforce the rule on every building that was built before that date (in 1981)," says McGrath. "I certainly emphasize with them (people with physical disabilities) over the fact that there are buildings that are not accessible and I would hope, even though we can't enforce it, that most business owners have the good intentions...to make their business as accessible as possible.
McGrath also pointed out it takes more than a wheelchair ramp to make buildings accessible for those who are physically disabled. Many of the older buildings have narrow doorways and cramped spaces, which makes it even more difficult to make them accessible.
"There's no point in putting on a wheelchair ramp if, once you get into the building, it's not accessible anyway," says McGrath
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Leo Abbass admits that the town isn't perfect when it comes to wheelchair accessibility. He believes that making Goose Bay more accessible for those with disabilities requires a community effort. Abbass even admits the Town Hall building is not perfect for wheelchair accessibility.
"As a council, we're aware of it," says Abbass. "We know even our front entrance to our building, even though we have a ramp there now...if you're in a wheelchair you've got difficulty coming through the front door. And that's something we've got to correct soon rather than later."
"There's a responsibility on all of us to make our places of residence and business accessible," says Abbass. "I do know most buildings are accessible but there are exceptions...is there a need for improvement? Yes there's need for improvement."