Halifax’s accessibility adviser hopes for contract renewal
Paul Vienneau, the wheelchair user who shovels neglected snow and ice, wants a more accessible city hall
January 23, 2020, 1:35 pm ASTLast Updated: January 23, 2020, 1:35 pm
With only a few weeks left in his one-year contract with the city, disability activist Paul Vienneau hopes it gets renewed because he has bigger accessibility plans he wants to pitch.
In February 2019, Vienneau was appointed to work on a year-long contract as the accessibility adviser to Halifax’s chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé.
Among the many accessibility plans Vienneau had for the city when he was first appointed, he said he wanted to see an accessible entrance to city hall.
“The back door is awesome, 15 years ago,” he said sarcastically.
Vienneau said he was on bed rest for most of last year and could not carry out many of the major initiatives he had planned.
“I did get a lot of stuff done, but I didn’t get the big stuff done that I really wanted to get done,” he explained.
Vienneau said one of the things he did was meet with Halifax’s chief of police to talk about the possibility of creating a training program for police officers to learn how to treat people with a disability.
“There’s a lot of stuff to get done, and this has become a big part of my life,” he said about working with the city.
Vienneau is known in Halifax as the man in a wheelchair who clears the often neglected ice and snow on sidewalk corners and bus stops in downtown Halifax.
He refers to himself as “the asshole with a shovel,” and on Wednesday, Vienneau once again picked up his shovel and took to the street.
He said he’d like to have a meeting with the head of the city’s public works department and “the snow clearing guys” concerning the state of South Park Street, which still had accessibility issues nearly a week after the snowstorm.
“Cause if it’s not written into the contract with the contractors, you can’t tell them to do extra work after the contract is signed,” he said.
Vienneau said while the city has improved with snow clearing in recent years, more work needs to be done around the small corners.
He said uncleared ice on the corners of sidewalks is a problem not only for disabled people.
“If you have a small business and you snap your ankle on a poorly done corner, everybody that relies on you is screwed for a while,” said Vienneau.
Vienneau said he has a number of things he wants to do if his city contract is renewed after next month.
One of them is to make Grand Parade accessible for blind people.
“Changing the landscaping for Grand Parade to become more accessible has been talked about for years, but they’ve never followed through,” he said, adding that there needs to be more than one accessible seat on the site.
“Grand Parade is not just a police monument and a war memorial. It’s this place for all citizens to feel represented and to go.”
‘I want some disabled kid to see that this is their place too’
Vienneau said he also hopes to start an initiative that would see tablets outside of council chambers so that deaf citizens can come in and watch meetings in person, with typed real-time translation.
He also said he would like to pitch the idea of using the Chanie Wenjack legacy room at city hall as a quiet space for autistic students.
He said he would like more people who are disabled to enter politics — not because they’re disabled, but because their experiences and qualifications make them deserving.
“I want some disabled kid to see that this is their place too and when they grow up, maybe they could be mayor,” he said.
“Soon after I’m gone, no one’s gonna remember my name and that’s okay because I only get to do stuff because someone else did this work before me.”
When Vienneau was asked if he’d like to go into politics, he said no, but said that he’s happy to help the city in any way he can.
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