Woman awarded $35,000 after condo building refuses to accommodate wheelchair

A Nanaimo woman who uses a wheelchair has been awarded $35,000 in damages after the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found her condo board’s refusal to make the building accessible made her a “prisoner in her own home.”

In a Sept. 11 decision, the tribunal found that 76-year-old Ada Jacobsen was discriminated against because of her disability. The tribunal ordered the Eagle Point Bayview complex in Nanaimo to begin the process of making the building wheelchair-accessible and to give financial compensation to Jacobsen for injury to her dignity, feelings and self respect.

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“Ms. Jacobsen has essentially been a prisoner in her own home,” wrote tribunal member Grace Chen. “Her sense of independence has been significantly reduced. Her enjoyment of life has been significantly impacted. Each time Ms. Jacobsen wants to go somewhere, she has to plan ahead with one of her friends so they can assist her.”

Jacobsen did not have mobility issues when she moved into the building in 2003, but as her health declined, she started using a wheelchair in 2016.

Because of three steps in the hallway leading from her second-floor suite to the elevator, Jacobsen was only able to leave or enter her suite if two friends helped her out of the wheelchair, supported her while she slowly walked up or down the steps and retrieved the wheelchair.

She said a platform from the front door to the parking lot is too steep and she has previously lost control on the way down, rolling into the car of a friend who was waiting to pick her up.

Jacobsen started asking the strata for accommodation of her mobility issues in 2014, before she used a wheelchair. She requested a small portable ramp that could help her navigate the stairs independently.

In December 2016, the property manager told Jacobsen that a ramp was not feasible because it would restrict access in the hallway. In February 2018, the property manager told Jacobsen in an email that the strata had contacted three contractors, who said a wheelchair ramp or lift could not be built. Jacobsen testified that the property manager told her to “just move.”

Testifying on behalf of the strata, Melissa Austin told the tribunal that out of 32 units in the building, only three residents have mobility issues.

That perspective is problematic, because it suggests accommodation should be assessed against the number of people who need accommodation, Chen wrote. “The duty to accommodate is not focused on what is best for the majority.”

Jacobsen also testified that in May 2018, after she filed her complaint, the strata voted to spend $110,000 from its contingency fund for a major renovation project that included new carpets, tiles, paint, lighting, door trim and hardware, and signs. Jacobsen said some of that money could be spent accommodating her disability.

Chen found that while the strata did make some changes, such as installing handrails on both sides of the hallway — albeit after an unreasonable period of delay — it did not take all reasonable steps to remove the disability related barriers. The tribunal ordered the strata to obtain architectural drawings to install a lift or external elevator in the hallway.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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