Accessibility Renovations in Canada's Parliamentary Precincts.

Canada's parliamentary precinct buildings were constructed during periods when thoughts about accessibility accommodations ranged from virtually non-existent to something considered when commissioning new builds. As a result, jurisdictions with older properties have undergone a series of renovations in recent decades to make these precincts more accessible for parliamentarians, staff and the public. The following lists and summaries detailing these renovations were created using information provided by the Office of the Clerk, parliamentary librarians, and/or departments of property management.

British Columbia

The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia has undertaken the following measures to make the parliamentary space more accessible to Members, staff and visitors with mobility restrictions:

Chamber and Committee Room Renovations and Improvements

* Improved the technology in the Legislative Chamber and facilitated the participation of Members with limited mobility.

* The Speaker's chair now incorporates a console system which features a House messaging system that Members with mobility restrictions can use to alert the Speaker of their interest in participating in debate.

* Reconfigured the Legislative Chamber--as required--to allow room for a Member with mobility restriction to easily access their desk.

* Members with mobility restrictions vote by raising their hands as opposed to standing during a formal division.

* Installed special extended microphones and standup desks in committee rooms for Members with mobility restrictions participating in Committee proceedings.

External Renovations and Improvements

* In March 2013, a new accessible entrance was unveiled at the front of the Parliament Buildings.

It is named after Douglas Lyle Mowat who served as a Member of our Legislative Assembly from 1983 to 1991. Mr. Mowat was the first wheelchair user elected to a legislature in Canada.

* Other improvements include:

* upgrades to create barrier free entrances;

* new accessible parking spaces;

* changes to curbs, paths and rolling surfaces around the Parliament Buildings to enhance accessibility; and,

* a concrete ramp and metal railings to facilitate improved accessibility to the Parliamentary Dining Room.

Internal Renovations and Improvements

* installed an internal ramp to provide accessibility to our Legislative Library

* renovated washroom entrances and fixtures to enhance accessibility

* installed automatic door openers

* modernized the building's elevators to enhance access to the overall building. The elevators were over 30 years old and, except for the elevator shafts, were completely replaced

* updated the fire alarm system with new fire bells and strobe lights for the hearing impaired

* installed "Evacu-Trac Evacuation Chairs" to assist mobility restricted Members should the elevators become inoperable during an on-site emergency requiring evacuation

* added closed captioning for the hearing-impaired as part of our television broadcast of all proceedings

* provided for personal care attendant services and Committee travel supports for Members as required.


1912: Elevators were put into the Legislature Building when it was originally constructed.

1965: New elevators were installed early in the year to replace the existing elevators.

1973: In response to a question in the Assembly on the availability of Legislature accessibility features the Minister of Public Works referenced plans to change access to the galleries to make them more accessible. Ramps are mentioned as being in place to enter the Building.

1981: Complete wheelchair accessibility to the Legislature Building was put in place during the International Year of the Disabled Person.

1986: Renovation provisions made for eight wheelchairs in the galleries; washrooms and telephone booths made accessible within the Building; handrails added in galleries to assist those who have difficulty with stairs.

1987: A temporary plywood ramp over front steps installed for visit of Rick Hanson.

1989: The first Member using a wheelchair is elected. Percy Wickman was a paraplegic who received the Order of Canada for his political career and efforts on behalf of people with disabilities. An interview with Percy Wickman about his experiences can be found in Canadian Parliamentary Review 13(1) 1990.

1990: Alberta is the first province to have American Sign Language interpreters sign on broadcasts. Technical issues and budget reductions resulted in a move to closed captioning in 1995.

2004: Bill 201 Safety Codes (Barrier-free Design and Access) Amendment Act, 2004 passed.

2007: As part of a review of occupational health and safety measures, offices and furnishings (including in constituency offices) were assessed and upgraded as required. Elevator cabs in the Legislature Building renovated to barrier-free standards regarding the control panels. Washrooms renovated to ensure access for people with disabilities.

2007: Assistive listening devices are made available upon request to members of the public entering the galleries. The original listening devices were the size of a small box and amplified the audio. In 2015, the assisted listening devices were updated to iPads that also provide closed captioning.

2008: The election of Kent Hehr, who is a quadriplegic using a motorized wheelchair. Upon Mr. Hehr's election, a review was undertaken by the Legislative Assembly and a representative of HFKS Architects. This initial site review identified potential barrier-free modifications for consideration. It was noted that the need for both accessibility and security presented conflicts in several locations. Egress from the allotted parking spaces into the Legislature Building, which included ramps, was deemed satisfactory. While door widths met Building Codes, the push buttons for the automatic door opener were upgraded. Within the Chamber, the Bar was moved to allow the Member to proceed unimpeded to his desk.

2012: Dedicated washrooms for people with disabilities established within the Legislature Building.

2013: Member Heather Forsyth brings her service dog Quill into the Chamber--a first in Canada. Quill assisted Forsyth, who has hearing loss. On Quill's first day at work at the Alberta Legislature, he sat under Forsyth's desk and was quite at ease. However, she said Quill was startled when politicians started thumping their hands on their desks during debate.

2013/2014: And accessibility investigation for the Legislature Building was completed by Percy Wickman's son's business, Ron Wickman Architect. At the time, funding was not in place to make any modifications.


The United Nations declared 1981 the International Year of Disabled Persons. The same year the Assembly put handrails on the legislative steps. It was a first small step toward much more extensive renovations in subsequent years.

In 1997, an emergency rehabilitation of the Legislative Building began. The project addressed major structural deficiencies to stabilize the building's foundation. In that same year there were upgrades to the building's safety components and accessibility standards, but stabilizing the foundation from underneath took precedent and delayed the accessibility piece of the building upgrades.

In April 1997, MLA Ned Shillington was confined to a wheelchair as a paraplegic; a special ramp had been provided for him in the Chamber, but it was not a permanent feature.

An accessible entryway was added to the front of the building in 2001. Named for the Prince of Wales and opened by him, it was developed during a substantial construction project on the Legislative Building. The impetus for the renovation was spurred by a visit five years earlier by paraplegic athlete and national hero Rick Hansen. He could not enter the building except via the service entrance at the back of the building. Officials vowed to make the necessary changes to prevent this scenario from happening again

In 2015 four Saskatchewan Party MLAs and one member of the opposition took part in a challenge posed by First Steps Wellness Centre: spend the day in a wheelchair. All five MLAs reported that the challenge gave them a new perspective for the types of barriers still present for persons with disabilities.

While the issues of accessibility are an ongoing discussion, Rule 1(2) of the Rules and Procedures of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan state that "The Speaker may alter the application of any Rule or practice of the Assembly in order to accommodate the full...

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