Announcement of website to document accessible tourist facilities is a small start in moving PEI towards accessibility

By Stephen Pate – The Federal and Provincial governments have a new website (under construction) that will rate PEI tourist facilities as accessible or not.

The website will disclose that PEI is a disaster for the disabled. Both Federal and Provincial governments have ignored their role in leading the public to accept people with disabilities.

That’s a step in the right direction of teaching tourist operators and the government they need to pay attention to this huge market – tourists with disabilities.

About 15% of North Americans live with a disability, about 55 million people. They travel and spend money.

If they come to PEI, they will discover Federal and Provincial parks are inaccessible. The beaches are inaccessible. The restaurants, except for the national chains and a few noteworthy lobster suppers like MacKinnon’s and New Glasgow are inaccessible.

As the CBC article said, the accessible facilities on PEI for tourists are the national chains who learned to follow standards, especially the American ones who have been sued by the EEOC for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The program was tested for a year with 130 Island businesses. Investigators found that national chains did a good job of consistently offering accessibility, but when it came to locally owned businesses, results were mixed.” CBC

Americans are used to accessible accommodations, restaurants, shopping and events. Hunting around for the few accessible facilities is not going to endear PEI to them.

You have to be disabled to understand the problems and frustration with wanting to eat and not being able to get inside the restaurant because you are in a wheelchair. Or you can get inside but need to pee and the washroom is up two steps.

How much fun is for tourists to drive the National Park but they can’t get on the beach because they are disabled?

I won’t bore you with all the examples but here are a few.

Chains like the Delta and Holiday Inn Express are accessible. So are retailers like WalMart and Home Depot. How’s that for a Taste of The Island?

The $500,000 ramp built last year to Brackley Beach is outside the National Building Code but the Minister last year defended it.

Bunk. I suggest able bodied people try to push themselves up the steep ramp on a hot day.

Parks Canada admits that its campgrounds are not accessible. The Provincial Parks don’t even make a rough stab at accessibility.

PEI’s big tourist attraction Anne of Green Gables is a series of mine fields for those in wheelchairs.

PEI does not enforce the National Building Code for accessibility so most buildings, new and old, are inaccessible.

You can open a restaurant in Charlottetown without even attempting accessibility. Lot 51 on Grafton Street is not accessible. They renovated the entrance again last year and totally ignored the issue. The City of Charlottetown just turns a blind eye.

Hats off to the Globe who renovated the old Brennan’s and made it totally accessible. It was the owners who did it. They weren’t required by law but common sense and a little arm twisting told them that people with disabilities are customers with money to spend.

Tourists with disabilities on the cruise ships have to take the uncomfortable Pat and the Elephant bus to see the Island. By age 65, 40% of people have a disability. Those are the people who take cruises.

Pat and Elephant van is an uncomfortable way to tour PEI

Last year we were getting calls to find some tour bus operator who would take a woman in a wheelchair on a tour. None of the operators, including the one’s complaining about losing business, wanted to help.

Pat and the Elephant stepped into the breach and now offer tours to cruise passengers. That’s a stop gap but a pretty pathetic way to see the Island.

Imagine yourself on PEI’s roads, sitting in the back of a wheelchair van. The van has a high centre of gravity which tosses you left and right.

To see the sights, you have to bend over and peek out the low windows. If the van pictured, your head is in the upper part not where the windows are. It’s a painful way to cross town let alone go to Cavendish. My neck is sore just going back and forth to the hospital.

While some businesses will get the message that accessibility equals revenue, you can’t build a consistent tourist product on common sense or good will.

The owner of the Old Dublin Pub and Peake’s Quay has a brother in a wheelchair. It took the proprietor two decades to make the Old Dublin partially accessible. Why? Cost probably or lack of sensitivity to the needs of the disabled.

The Province of PEI needs to get past platitudes and websites and actually implement accessibility across the board on PEI.

That they don’t move on this shows how strong the business lobby is and how backward PEI is in terms of human rights and modern business practices.