Decade-Long Battle Over York Street Steps Settled

By Joanne Chianello, The Ottawa Citizen May 27, 2011

A new committee to provide the NCC with advice on universal accessibility will be vice-chaired by Bob Brown, seen here in 2006, the activist who brought a human rights complaint against the NCC over wheelchair access to the York Street Steps in the ByWard Market.  


OTTAWA — In what is being billed as a win-win solution by all parties involved, an Ottawa activist for accessibility and the National Capital Commission
have put a decade-long legal battle over wheelchair access to the York Street Steps in the ByWard Market behind them.

But more important, the parties have agreed to create a new committee to provide the NCC with advice on universal accessibility. That committee will be
vice-chaired by Bob Brown, the activist who brought the human rights complaint against the NCC in the first place.

“The issue all along has been the lack of consultation at the design stage for universal access,” said Brown, who has used a wheelchair since 1972, when he was disabled in a car crash.

“But the principles of universal access aren’t just for persons with disabilities, they’re for everyone … it could be seniors, or mothers with strollers.”

The issue goes back to the late 1990s, when the NCC built the $1.7-million York Street Steps, which link Mackenzie Avenue and Sussex Drive. They are not wheelchair-accessible, because it was concluded that a ramp at the staircase would be too steep and that an elevator at that site would cost too much to build, operate and maintain.

Instead, the NCC installed a stand-alone public elevator at the nearby Daly site, 130 metres south of the steps. It has been operating round-the-clock since 2005.

Brown has been fighting for equal access to the York Street Steps since August 1999 and has found himself at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the Federal Court of Appeal and back again. During the second go-round at the tribunal, the parties worked with a mediator who helped them reach the new agreement.

In a statement, NCC chief executive Marie Lemay said the commission “welcomes the successful resolution of this matter and is committed to providing barrier-free access to residents and visitors in the Capital Region.”

Brown said “we’re moving forward” from the York Street Steps and that “there are a lot of new projects coming up with the NCC, so the committee will be
able to make sure those projects will have universal design components.”

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