‘Absolutely dumbfounded’: Disability advocate demands apology over Oak Bay patio survey

'Absolutely dumbfounded': Disability advocate demands apology over Oak Bay patio survey
File photo
Oak Bay is conducting a survey on making the patios permanent, but one question did not sit right with one disability advocate.

An Oak Bay survey on the future of patios in the municipality has sparked outrage in a disability advocate because one question asks about expanding into accessible parking spaces.

It may not be patio season just yet but Oak Bay is looking at keeping them up and running for when the sun does shine again. Originally a temporary pandemic project, the district is looking at making the street-side and parking lot patios permanent.

It’s launched a survey asking the public its opinion on things like where the patios may be best suited and whether they should run year-round.

But it’s another question that’s creating some backlash: whether patios should be able to expand into parking stalls, including accessible ones.

“I was absolutely dumbfounded to find they would suggest through one of their questions that parking for people with disabilities or accessible parking might be a suitable place to expand these patios,” said disability advocate David Willows.

Willows says the district already has limited wheelchair parking and the few spots that do exist are often taken by people without permits.

“We see more abuse, we see more people using it for just a few moments while they run into a store, we see delivery vehicles using them because they can’t find another place to park,” he said.

Yet he says the spots are critical for making sure his nine-year-old son Nick, who has cerebral palsy, can get out and enjoy the community. Willows says even simply suggesting the critical spots are a good spot for a patio is offensive.

Canada’s chief accessibility officer and former BC MLA Stephanie Cadieux seems to agree, responding to Willows’ tweet on the subject and questioning the thinking behind the survey.

“I would suggest perhaps that the municipality should consider an apology to the disability community and remove that question,” said Willows.

And Friday afternoon, Oak Bay’s mayor did just that, saying the wording of the question was a mistake.

“For anybody who read that and thought we’re looking at remove these I definitely want to apologize for that, that was not the intention of this survey,” said Mayor Kevin Murdoch.

Murdoch says the survey authors got the wording wrong. It wasn’t meant to suggest the district would remove accessible spaces but simply possibly move them. They’ve since added a footnote to the question explaining that.

Murdoch insists the district is actually working on ways to make the community more accessible and is launching an accessibility committee this year to help them do just that.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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