Access Includes Environmental Disabilities
Interview with Maureen Reynolds
UPdate Fall 2001

Agnes Malouf spoke with Maureen Reynolds who is an environmentally sensitive member of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities. The committee's mandate includes "to facilitate the full participation of all citizens with disabilities in civic and community affairs" and "to work towards the elimination of physical and attitudinal barriers facing persons with disabilities" through advising Council on these matters. 

AM: When and why did you join the Advisory Committee?
MR: I joined around a year and a half ago. I felt I could play a part in educating people about chemical sensitivities, while at the same time trying to solve problems such as insuring that washrooms, taxis, buses and even ambulances are tolerable for persons with environmental sensitivities. I care about people who have disabilities, particularly arthritis and other hidden disabilities, and I would like to see wheelchair access improved overall.

AM: What do you hope to achieve on this Committee?
MR: First of all, I would love to see washrooms available that are free of deodorizers or scented soap so that people with sensitivities would not have to go home in order to use a washroom (as I have had to do since 1967).

Second, I would like to see warning signs indicating the presence of acetone or other strong chemical odors associated with new construction. Outdoor dryer vents, diesel fumes and, of course, pesticides are other areas of concern to many people. 

Third, I would love to see some scent-free cabs; that is, cabs with no deodorizers, perfume or smoking permitted.  

Another issue that may be harder to achieve would be rapid transit for environmentally sensitive people. Many are unable to take the bus because there is no way to avoid pesticide spraying on lawns which happen to be near bus routes or scents of other bus users.

Low-cost housing, particularly emergency shelters for people who cannot stay in an apartment building which is being sprayed or who for one reason or another need temporary chemical-free accommodation, is a very real necessity.

AM: Are there other specific things that could be changed?
MR: It could be made mandatory that scented candles in grocery stores be put in sealed packages and no pesticides are sold in places selling food. A bylaw might be passed requiring that all public hand railings on outdoor stairs, park benches, playground equipment and low fencing where children climb be free of pressure-treated wood.  

Outdoor smoking when groups of people are gathered at public events, for example during the Buskers Festival, is something that should be looked at. When the Tall Ships came to HRM there was a special area for environmentally sensitive people to stand to watch them, but because people did not know about it, it was not well used. My dream is to one day watch the fireworks from Citadel Hill knowing that people around me would not be smoking. 

Basically I believe that everybody has the right to take part in city life - in everything that is available. Environmentally sensitive people are often excluded from libraries and other public places because protective policies are not in place. 

AM: Have there been any successes so far?
MR: We did a walk-through of the Metro Centre to look at the washrooms there. We have asked the HRM to use scent-free cleaning products and they have agreed to consider them. We wrote a letter thanking City Council for the pesticide bylaw as we see this as a huge step forward in protecting people already suffering from environmental illness and in preventing chemical sensitivities in others.  An article about what it is like to be chemically sensitive will soon be put on the HRM Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities' website.

The committee had input into getting a braille printer so that HRM could translate their printed material. They also had some input into more curb cuts,  buses for wheelchair users, more parking spaces for the disabled, and insuring that new bicycle racks would not interfere with wheelchair access.

AM: Were your fellow committee members aware of the accessibility issues of people with environmental sensitivities?
MR: They had a bit of an idea because they had already talked with someone from the Environmental Health Centre in Fall River, but the concept is still very new to most people. However, they have been very receptive.

AM: Are they sympathetic to the concerns of people with environmental disabilities. 
MR: Yes. They are very caring and they suggest things that I wouldn't even think to hope for. Overall, HRM is trying to be inclusive and I am impressed with how considerate and respectful they are to people with special needs.


Agnes Malouf is a teacher and Board member of the Nova Scotia Allergy and 
Environmental Health Association.  

The HRM Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities website is at

Maureen Reynolds can be contacted at 477-1440.