‘I want him to be included’

Mother says broken wheelchair lift affecting son’s education

Ty Dunham ty.dunham@tc.tc
Published on December 2, 2015

JR Smallwood Elementary School Grade 6 student Evan Alexander, 11, loves joining his classmates in music, art, and gym classes, but a frequently broken chair lift often prevents him from taking part.

©Submitted photo.

The parents of an 11-year-old boy in a wheelchair are fed up with the school’s lift system breaking down, causing him to miss class time with his peers.

The parents of an 11-year-old boy in a wheelchair are fed up with the school’s lift system breaking down, causing him to miss class time with his peers.
Cindy Humphries and Sheldon Alexander are no longer surprised when they receive a text message from JR Smallwood Elementary School in Wabush stating the lift is down, and their son, Evan, and his Grade 6 class would be moved downstairs until it’s fixed.
Humphries said they’ve been dealing with the issue of the chair lift breaking down since Evan began attending school, but since May, the problem has become more frequent.
“Since this school year, the maintenance guy will be arriving for the second time; he was here in October,” said Humphries. “It’s apparently down for multiple issues now.”
Until someone from St. John’s travels to the Wabush school to assess the issue, order the part if needed, and fix it, Evan’s classroom is moved from the top floor down to the bottom floor.
Until this year four faculty members would lift Evan and his chair up the six flights of stairs, but Humphries said it’s too dangerous to continue.
“We’ve had enough. Now with the time of year kids are coming and going, they have snow on their feet making the floors and stairs wet. So I said for the sake of everyone’s safety – not just for Evan’s but the other people as well – what’s our plan B?”
When the lift returns to working order the class returns upstairs, but Humphries said Evan’s homeroom attendance is inconsistent. The lift broke again while he was halfway down the stairs on Nov 27. On Monday morning his class was downstairs again. On Tuesday, Evan’s classmates went to music class on another floor while he stayed behind.
“It was just him and his student assistant. They practiced their part for the Christmas play, listened to Christmas music and did some colouring. I’ve had enough of the lifting for everyone’s safety. I have to be concerned for the safety of my child, but I want him to be included.”

He learns form other peers. By being with other children, they’re learning through each other. Evan teaches them, they teach Evan. Cindy Humphries

Learns from peers
Evan doesn’t walk or talk, but Humphries said he’s very aware of what’s going on. He’s intelligent with computers, and loves science and math class, which he can learn alongside his friends.
However, he also loves music, art, going to the library, and playing in the gym with his walker and bike. He cannot access the facilities when the lift is broken.
Humphries said her son is missing out on important time with his classmates.
“He learns form other peers. By being with other children, they’re learning through each other. Evan teaches them, they teach Evan.”
Like a runner being cheered on by peers, Evan is driven by his friends around him and progresses in many areas thanks to the class participation, explained his mother.

“He can use the recorder. Now, he can’t make any notes, but he’s using the muscles in his mouth to make the sounds. When you have two or three other kids your age encouraging you to do it, you do it.”

Being away from his class also means Evan loses out on helping his teachers, she added.

“If there’s any paperwork to be handed out he does it for all the subjects. He’s missing out on that now. Evan loves music. The teacher loves having him there because he’s excited about it and it gets the whole class into it.”
But the broken lift doesn’t just affect Evan’s education. The cafeteria is on a different floor, and so he eats with a few of his friends so he’s not alone. And from one day to the next students may move from the upstairs to the downstairs as their teachers remind them to grab the right books from their lockers at recess.
Alexander said it’s affecting Evan’s teachers who are burdened with the added responsibility of making sure their students are up to date on where to be.
“It’s not fair for the teachers, for them to move from their home base.

It’s very hectic in the mornings and recess time, they’re reminded them to get their books and come back. They’re 11 years old, they’re going to be distracted.”

When the lift does work Alexander said it’s very slow, causing anyone who needs it their recess break just to get to class rather than playing and socializing like the other students.
“There’s another child who will need the lift after Christmas, so now they’ll have to wait for it to go up six flights, back down, and up again. It takes at least 20 minutes for it to go up and come back down again.”
Humphries said she doesn’t have any answers — just that something needs to be done for the sake of the student’s education.
“I just want to see the lift work. I’m not asking for an elevator – I know a lot of people on Facebook have been saying it’s time for an elevator – I just want something that works.”


The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District is currently addressing an issue with the wheelchair lift.
According to a prepared statement from a spokesperson from the district a required part has been ordered for the lift and is expected to arrive at the school any day. The replacement batteries have also been provided for the stair climber in the school, with a new battery charger ordered, and members of the school’s student support services team have been provided training on the use of the stair climber.
The stair climber should now be operational and ready for use and is the backup device for when the chairlift is out of service.
The statement said every effort is made to ensure any impact on instructional time is minimized and the parents and guardians of impacted students are aware of programming adjustments.”