Blind city councillor Ross Eadie has asked the City of Winnipeg to spend $45,000 a year to ensure he can access all city documents and find his way to all meetings outside his office in a safe and timely manner.
The rookie councillor for Mynarski, who was elected in October, has requested the city cover the cost of hiring staff over and above his standard $74,435 councillor representation allowance, which is intended to cover all office expenses.
In a letter to city council's secretariat committee, which governs council regulations and expenses, Eadie said 70 per cent of his accommodation request, or $31,500, would be spent on staff to edit documents that otherwise cannot be scanned properly by the optical-character-recognition software he uses to access most documents.
While city-prepared documents can be scanned by the software, some handwritten and computer-generated documents — usually submitted by constituents — wind up getting garbled and require human editing. Right now, that means Eadie cannot read the likes of certain grant applications or appeal letters.
"I don't like voting on something when I don't know all the aspects," said Eadie, adding nowhere near as much paper crossed his desk during the years when he served as a Seven Oaks school trustee.
The remaining 30 per cent of Eadie's accommodation request, or $13,500, would be spent on staff who would help him find his way to meeting rooms in unfamiliar buildings and also find his way through the snow to the entrance to buildings. Eadie said he has been late to some meetings or has almost gotten into accidents at building entrances.
"The problem is not getting to the location. It's getting into the right place and navigating open spaces," he said. "I do take buses or taxis to some meetings. But I'm going to be a councillor who is out there a lot."
Eadie's transportation assistant would drive his or her own vehicle. Parking fees would be covered by his regular councillor representation allowance. So would most of his office expenses, he said.
"I have normal expenses, like every other councillor. I have an assistant doing casework. This request is to cover something over and above what other councillors would have to spend," he said. "It's not for my personal use. This is for someone to assist me to represent the people of Mynarski."
Eadie's request will come before the secretariat committee on Monday. The committee will then ask city staff to consider it.
Committee chairman Grant Nordman (St. Charles), who also serves as council Speaker, expects his committee to refer the request to operating-budget discussions.
"We're faced with a challenge to support Ross. There will be some consideration to support his request. How far we're able to go, we'll have to see," Nordman said.
"When (Charleswood-St.James-Assiniboia MP) Steven Fletcher arrived at Parliament, he couldn't even get in the front door of the building. We're way ahead of that, with all the accessibility improvements at city hall. But at the end of the day, we have to be more inclusive."
In 2010, city hall installed braille signage outside all rooms and replaced steep ramps on King and Main streets with longer, gentler slopes that are easier to navigate for people who use wheelchairs.
The city must also extend every effort to accommodate Eadie's request, said Yude Henteleff, a lawyer who specializes and lectures about accessibility issues.
Canadian legal precedent requires all employers to not just accommodate people with special needs, but do everything possible short of going bankrupt, Henteleff said.
"Just to let him in the front door is not sufficient," Henteleff said. "The city is obliged to provide reasonable accommodation, up to the point of undue hardship."
Eadie, who lost his eyesight at 24, said he never became a fluent braille reader. At city hall, he uses optical character-recognition scanners and readers to conduct his duties. During council meetings, he uses an earpiece to access audio notes of prepared speeches.
Eadie believes he is the first visually impaired city councillor to serve Winnipeg since Magnus Eliason retired in 1989, partly due to his declining vision. Eadie surmised he would require three full-time assistants to serve him had he been elected before OCR technology was widely available.
Auditors clear Smith
Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith has satisfied city auditors all his 2009 transportation expenses were valid.
In 2010, city auditors told council's secretariat committee they could account for $414.97 of Smith's transportation expenses. In a new report to the committee, the auditors say Smith has satisfied their requests for supporting documentation.