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Accessibility Barrier at Whitby Building Traps Disabled Man

Property meets all minimum requirements of building code, Town says

Aug 02, 2011 – 11:27 AM
Parvaneh Pessian

WHITBY — High above his condo on the rooftop of a building overlooking the waterfront is where Peter Fee finds his “little piece of heaven.”

As residents of The Rowe, located at the corner of Charles and Victoria streets in Whitby, he and his wife, Helene, are constantly up there to enjoy the
stunning view from their private rooftop terrace.

“It’s one of the main reasons we moved in two years ago. As long as it’s not raining, we’re up here every day.”

But last month, Mr. Fee — who gets around in a motorized scooter due to paralysis on his left side from a stroke he suffered eight years ago — found himself helpless due to what he describes as the building’s “short-sighted” system of accessibility.

A small vestibule, leading visitors to the rooftop area, has two doors to pass through, but is only equipped with one automatic door opener. This renders
the access virtually useless for disabled individuals, and recently left Mr. Fee trapped.

“Helene had gone out on an errand and it was a beautiful day so I went up there on my own and pushed the button to go in the first door but it closed behind me inside the little room and I can’t open the second door because it’s not connected to a push button door mechanism,” says Mr. Fee.

Determined to maintain his independence despite physical limitations, Mr. Fee arose from his scooter and attempted to manually push the door open.

He didn’t get very far, losing his balance and tumbling to the ground.

“I was out of breath, my heart was pounding and I’m a pretty resilient guy but I was stuck,” he says, his voice trembling.

To add insult to injury, the couple say they had informed the building’s property manager and board of directors of the accessibility barrier on the rooftop
months earlier.

“They realize it’s a problem but it’s not a priority for them,” says Mrs. Fee, adding that she and her husband retrieved a quote for the work back in November (about $1,600) and even offered to cover the expenses — but the board refused.

“They won’t let us because they say you shouldn’t have to do that, but they won’t do it themselves so we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

John Allan, president of the board of directors for The Rowe Condominiums, says members have been aware of the accessibility issue for some time but are in the midst of addressing it.

“We are responding to the residents’ needs and we’re in the process of obtaining quotes to enhance the access to the roof,” he says.

The estimated cost of the enhancements indicated by companies the board has consulted far exceeds the suggested $1,600, he adds.

“It’s going to take time because we have to rely on other people to tell us the logistics and the technical side of it and then we’re going to make a good
business decision … we have a budget and you have to look in your budget to see where the money is.”

According to Whitby’s manager of building and bylaw services, Brent Rice, The Rowe currently meets all minimum building code requirements.

“The building code requires that there be an accessible entrance (at grade level) and it may require more than one depending on how many entrances you have to the building, but those are the only entrances that are required by the Ontario Building Code to have automatic door operators,” he says.

“The building code doesn’t require or doesn’t regulate the doors leading to a roof access or any other public space within the building.”

The Province has conducted a review of the proposed Built Environment Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, and an
updated set of requirements will be established in the near future.

“I expect that the new building code will have a much higher level of accessibility required but based on the current building code, the Rowe Condominium does meet code and if the owner or the board wants to go above and beyond that minimum level, that’s at their discretion,” says Mr. Rice.

While unsure of a definite time line for the project, Mr. Allan says the board wants to ensure the work is done properly to avoid running into problems

“All I’m going to say is we’re doing it as fast as we can, being mindful of the economics of the building and everyone’s needs.”

But Mr. Fee says the heart of the issue lies in taking action now, acknowledging the concerns of residents and doing the right thing without delay.

“What else has to happen? I’ve already fallen,” he says. “It’s my dignity. It’s my right to be able to access our world here.”

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