Parliament Must Ready To Accommodate New Member
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 2, 2004
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA--Steven Fletcher is bringing an agenda to Ottawa.
The Progressive Conservative says he plans to focus on health care, education, accountability in government and defense spending.
He will also be bringing his electric wheelchair -- which he operates with a switch he taps with his head -- and a 24-hour assistant.
Voters in his district of Winnipeg elected Fletcher on Monday to the House of Commons where he becomes Canada's first quadriplegic member of Parliament.
Before he can work on his campaign priorities, however, Fletcher will have to make sure he can get into Parliament buildings and chambers, which had not been made accessible when he visited two years ago.
"The codes are out of date in many cases and quite frankly, it's overdue," he said. "These changes should have been made a generation ago."
Parliamentary rules will also have to be adjusted so that Fletcher can have a personal assistant in the chambers with him to handle documents and possibly to help him vote. Those rules currently state that only members of Parliament are permitted on the floor of the House of Commons "when the House is sitting".
According to various media reports, Canadian disability groups are considering Fletcher's election win a victory for them as well.
"It's great that Steven's there," Laurie Beachell, a coordinator with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, told the Toronto Star. "What truly changes and removes barriers is a . . . policy approach to ensuring inclusion."
Fletcher accepts the role of being a national advocate for Canadians with disabilities.
"The only visible minority that hasn't been represented in Parliament so far is the disabled," Fletcher told the Winnipeg Sun. "I'm happy that I have a unique perspective."
"Fletcher wins praise" (Winnipeg Sun)
"Paralyzed MP plans to change attitudes in Ottawa" (The Globe and Mail)
"New MP expects equal access" (Toronto Star)