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Yellowknife’s Transit Leaves Disabled Residents Unable to Attend Public Meetings, Says Advocate

City’s bus service ends at 7:10 p.m., while city council meetings, public consultations often begin later By Kayla Rosen, CBC News
Posted: Nov 06, 2017

An advocate for disability services is calling attention to shortcomings in Yellowknife’s transit service, saying that current offerings are making it impossible for people with disabilities to attend public meetings even ones that directly affect them.

Many city council meetings and events happen in the evening, but the Yellowknife Accessible Transit Service (YATS) ends at 7:10 p.m., leaving people with disabilities limited options on how to get to and from events.

“I don’t even really look at city events anymore, because I know I can’t attend,” said Elizabeth Portman, who has multiple sclerosis, limiting her mobility and strength.

Portman previously filed a human rights complaint related to YATS, which ultimately led to the city getting its wrist slapped for charging more to people using the service than those using regular transit.

Most recently, the City of Yellowknife held a public consultation on waste management to get the public’s “imaginative ideas and thoughts,” according to the poster. The meeting started at 7:30 p.m., 20 minutes after YATS had finished for the day.

Portman said she would have liked to raise accessibility concerns at this meeting, including the fact that the lid on the garbage bin at her apartment is too heavy to lift.

“I could have told them that people with disabilities who live in houses and who have to take their bins out to the curb… well, how do you do that if you have one good arm and you have to use a wheelchair?”

Portman also said she reached out to the city because she wanted to attend city council meetings, which take place at 7 p.m. Instead of being offered alternate transportation options, Portman said she was told she could watch a live webcast at home.

“That’s not inclusion and that’s not equality and it’s also not very nice,” she said.

Schedule based on budget

It’s not just the city’s events that are hard for people with disabilities to get to, Portman said. Other events, including a yoga class for people with multiple sclerosis, happen after 7:10 p.m.

“Once transportation ends, many of us, myself included, are very limited in how we can participate in the community,” she said.

Portman added that people with disabilities don’t necessarily have many other transportation options, such as biking or driving a car.

Dennis Kefalas, Yellowknife’s director of public works and engineering, said in an email that city meetings “are usually scheduled for the evening to allow for residents to have a chance to get home after work and/or school, have a bite to eat.”

“Our transit system works on a specific schedule based on our budget, which only allows us to operate until 7:00 p.m.,” he said.

“We are always open for input and have provided contact information for residents who can’t make the meetings to allow them a chance to give us their thoughts and opinions.”

Portman has suggested a possible compromise could be to offer half-priced cab fare when accessibility transit is not available in the evening hours.

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