Parks Canada stumbles with half million dollar white elephant at Brackley Beach

By Stephen Pate – The new wheelchair accessible ramp at Brackley Beach in the PEI National Park is not accessible. Half a million dollars was wasted on the monstrosity that towers 18 feet in the air and 500 feet long. Parks Canada forgot to include people with disabilities in the design process.

“The fight is between stupidity and the people who make these decisions…they do things without us. They don’t ask our opinion ahead of time.”

All the good intentions in the world are worthless when you don’t include people with disabilities in the design of buildings, programs or anything that is meant to assist people with disabilities. The international disability rights organization coined the phrase “Nothing About Us Without Us” after thousands of failed projects like Brackley Beach.

Somebody is going to have to tear most of that white elephant down and re-build it at a lower profile. Will Parks Canada arrogantly keep that inaccessible ramp in place or will they fix it?  Better yet, will they work smarter next time to include real people with disabilities in the design process and make the whole National Park on PEI accessible? That would be smart.

The logic is obvious. We don’t appoint men to head a group on violence against women. You appoint competent women.  Nor would blacks accept a white person to head their advocacy organizations. Unless you are living the role of a minority person, you cannot understand the issues and possible ways to resolve them.

People with disabilities are one of the last minorities to be represented by their own members. On PEI the PEI Council of Persons with Disabilities has been led for 20 years by able bodied people. We have made virtually no progress on integration of people with disabilities into society during those two decades. Along with that lack of sensitivity, the Board is constantly worried they will lose their government funding. They have become apologists for government policy and weak advocates for the disabled.

My disability is mobility – I use a wheelchair. I can easily tell when a building or ramp is accessible or not. However you would have to include someone who is blind to make the beach accessible to them. Each major disability has issues that cannot be solved with a simple solution like “build a ramp.”

The math says the ramp at Brackley Beach is wrong. It should be more than 2 feet of length for every one inch of rise in height. A ramp over the dunes at the highest point is impractical since it would be 1,000 feet long. The standard used by Parks Canada is 1 foot for every inch which is suitable for short ramps, not ones that are 500 feet long.

Pushing up hill for 500 feet is a daunting task for most people in a wheelchair. We could have told Parks Canada that if they asked. But they didn’t.  We could have suggested practical alternatives to the ramp, but they didn’t ask for that either.

If Parks Canada spent $500,000 to make Brackley Beach, their hearts were in the right place. We hope they put policies in place to make sure the process works more effectively next time.