YK woman owed $10K following 2013 accessibility complaint

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The NWT legislature has been ordered to pay a Yellowknife woman $10,000 in compensation after her ‘dignity, feelings and self-respect’ was damaged when she couldn’t access a restroom in the building.

Elizabeth Portman, who has multiple sclerosis, filed a complaint against the legislative assembly after she was unable to access a handicap bathroom in November 2013 due to the heaviness of the glass and wooden doors.

RELATED: ‘Huge’ gap in services as feds lay out accessibility legislation

Last Thursday, the Northwest Territories Human Rights Adjudication Panel issued a decision ordering the legislature to pay Portman $10,000 in compensation.

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“The legislative assembly accepts the decision of the adjudication panel and will comply with it fully,” said Speaker Jackson Lafferty in a statement issued Tuesday.

“This has been a valuable learning experience and one that has resulted in significant improvements to the accessibility of our building by all members of the public.

“I sincerely regret that Ms. Portman suffered the indignity that she did in 2013.”

Since 2012, the legislature has accumulated approximately $315,000 in expenditures trying to make the building more accessible.

That work has included making doorways wider so that they comply with national building codes, installing automatic doors throughout the assembly and making improvements to seating areas for people with wheelchairs.

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Although not included in the adjudicator’s order, staff at the legislative assembly will also undertake further human rights training starting in October.

NWT Disabilities Council responds to ruling

Denise McKee, executive director of the NWT Disabilities Council, is commending Portman for bringing the issue of accessibility to light.

“I think it’s important across the territory when we’re talking about accessibility to all people,” she said.

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“There were accessibility issues that were identified and unfortunately they weren’t resolved at the beginning so it had to go through that [complaint] process.

“Our greatest hope is that we don’t end up having to go to human rights cases in order to approach issues regarding accessibility.

“It really is necessary to take a look at accessibility for people living with visible and non-visible disabilities.”

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