Leg­is­la­tion would ‘move the nee­dle’ on ac­ces­si­bil­ity in N.L.: ad­vo­cate

Provin­cial gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted to mak­ing it hap­pen, says con­sul­ta­tions will hap­pen in the next year

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - EDITORIAL - BY LOUIS POWER

The con­ver­sa­tion about ac­ces­si­bil­ity in our com­mu­ni­ties has been go­ing on for decades, and it’s time for ac­tion through leg­is­la­tion, some ad­vo­cates say.

Deb­bie Ryan of CNIB New­found­land and Labrador is among the mem­bers of Bar­rier-free New­found­land and Labrador, a group whose sole pur­pose is to lobby for ac­ces­si­bil­ity leg­is­la­tion. The lo­cal chap­ter was formed in Novem­ber, af­ter Bar­rier-free Canada co-chair David Le­povsky vis­ited St. John’s as part of con­sul­ta­tions on fed­eral ac­ces­si­bil­ity leg­is­la­tion.

“David talked about civil and con­sti­tu­tional law. He talked about the fact that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties ... live in a so­ci­ety that is de­signed as if we’re not there. And when you look at the fact that across this coun­try, there are four mil­lion Cana­di­ans liv­ing with a dis­abil­ity, that’s scary,” said Ryan.

To give a lit­tle lo­cal per­spec­tive, she said there are cur­rently 3,600 peo­ple in the prov­ince reg­is­tered with CNIB — and at least 20,000 more liv­ing with vi­sion loss.

For those res­i­dents, and res­i­dents liv­ing with other dis­abil­i­ties, progress has been slow when it comes to knock­ing down ac­ces­si­bil­ity bar­ri­ers.

That’s what Ryan is re­fer­ring to when she says the prov­ince needs to “move the nee­dle.”

She said mak­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity in pub­lic spa­ces law, with a time­line in mind — Nova Sco­tia’s Ac­ces­si­bil­ity Act, which aims for an ac­ces­si­ble prov­ince by 2030, for in­stance — would help our com­mu­ni­ties get there quicker.

“It has to be a much faster process. We need to look at what needs to be done, set time­lines and meet those time­lines, but that, un­for­tu­nately, has not been the case.

For ex­am­ple, right here in Metro St. John’s we, as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, have 1,100 clients that we pro­vide ser­vices to, but there are only three ac­ces­si­ble pedes­trian sig­nals in the City of St. John’s,” she said.

“That’s just a small ex­am­ple of why I feel there’s a ne­ces­sity to move the whole con­ver­sa­tion about leg­is­la­tion to the fore­front, so that peo­ple will un­der­stand that ... with leg­is­la­tion comes ed­u­ca­tion. Be­cause in order to im­ple­ment leg­is­la­tion, you have to in­form the peo­ple in the com­mu­nity of how they are to fol­low that leg­is­la­tion. So there’s au­to­mat­i­cally an ed­u­ca­tion com­po­nent to it.”

Ryan said peo­ple of­ten say leg­is­la­tion shouldn’t be nec­es­sary to pre­vent dis­crim­i­na­tion, as there’s al­ready a Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms, and hu­man rights codes, to pro­tect peo­ple who feel they’ve been vic­tims of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“But the Char­ter of Rights and the hu­man rights code re­ally, while it tells us you can’t dis­crim­i­nate, and you need to ac­com­mo­date the needs of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties up to the point of un­due hard­ship, it doesn’t have en­force­ment. It’s not out there en­sur­ing that peo­ple are do­ing what they should be do­ing, so what it does is it forces peo­ple who are liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties to be­come, as David called them, ‘ac­ces­si­bil­ity cops.’ And they have to fight their own cases, and there’s some­thing fun­da­men­tally wrong with that. Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties should not have to go and fight for them­selves, and of­ten­times, some­body liv­ing with a dis­abil­ity has bar­ri­ers to em­ploy­ment, and of­ten don’t have the re­sources to take on those is­sues,” Ryan said.

“That’s another rea­son why we think we need a law that will — not one that will re­place hu­man rights or the char­ter of rights, but one that will ac­tu­ally make them work. One that will get us ac­tion with­out us hav­ing to fight one bar­rier at a time, or one or­ga­ni­za­tion at a time.”

The gov­ern­ment of Canada con­sulted with groups and in­di­vid­u­als around the coun­try this year on fed­eral ac­ces­si­bil­ity leg­is­la­tion. But fed­eral laws don’t cover ev­ery­thing, Ryan says, and provin­cial laws are needed to ef­fect change in com­mu­ni­ties. She points to other prov­inces, liken­ova Sco­tia, that have sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion in place, and says New­found­land and Labrador doesn’t need to rein­vent the wheel in order to set our own goals.

Lisa Demp­ster, min­is­ter of Chil­dren, Se­niors and So­cial De­vel­op­ment and the prov­ince’s min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for the sta­tus of per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties, said it’s her man­date to re­view ex­ist­ing laws and im­ple­ment in­clu­sion-based leg­is­la­tion in New­found­land and Labrador.

“In­clu­sion-based or broad­based ac­ces­si­bil­ity leg­is­la­tion is a grow­ing trend across the coun­try. It goes be­yond mak­ing our build­ings ac­ces­si­ble to mak­ing sure all as­pects of our com­mu­ni­ties and pri­vate and pub­lic ser­vices are ac­ces­si­ble to everyone,” she wrote to The Tele­gram.

“Our com­mit­ment to in­clu­sion-based leg­is­la­tion demon­strates the se­ri­ous­ness and ne­ces­sity of de­sign­ing and pro­vid­ing in­clu­sive, ser­vices, build­ings, fa­cil­i­ties, com­mu­ni­ties. It is about re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers and pre­vent­ing new bar­ri­ers.”

Demp­ster said the provin­cial gov­ern­ment will con­sult with peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, or­ga­ni­za­tions and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments in the com­ing year.

“In­di­vid­u­als and groups are al­ready turn­ing their minds to what leg­is­la­tion could look like. The Provin­cial Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil for the In­clu­sion of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties has be­gun dis­cus­sions on leg­isla­tive op­tions.”

She said the prov­ince is pay­ing at­ten­tion to what’s hap­pen­ing else­where in Canada — Que­bec, Ontario, Man­i­toba and Nova Sco­tia all have leg­is­la­tion in place, and oth­ers in­clud­ing New­found­land and Labrador have com­mit­ted to do­ing the same.

“Leg­is­la­tion in other prov­inces in­cludes reg­u­lated and manda­tory stan­dards in spe­cific ar­eas, such as cus­tomer ser­vice, in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, em­ploy­ment, trans­porta­tion, and the built en­vi­ron­ment,” Demp­ster wrote.

“We want to hear from peo­ple in the prov­ince, and work with com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and other stake­hold­ers. We want to cre­ate in­clu­sion­based leg­is­la­tion that works for this prov­ince — a ‘made in New­found­land and Labrador’ leg­is­la­tion, not nec­es­sar­ily a replica of what is hap­pen­ing in other prov­inces or fed­er­ally.”

Ryan said Bar­rier-free NL wants to be at the table to help guide that process. She said she knows it’s not go­ing to be easy, and she knows it’s go­ing to take time; there are many as­pects to ac­ces­si­bil­ity, from para-trans­port to paint­ing side­walks to help peo­ple with low vi­sion. She feels set­ting a date, like other prov­inces have, will give the com­mu­nity time to make ad­just­ments and help move things along.

“We need to es­tab­lish a goal to work to­wards one that will force us to move that nee­dle that’s been ba­si­cally sit­ting there for far too long,” she said.

FILE PHOTO

Deb­bie Ryan with the CNIB says the gov­ern­ment needs to move on leg­is­la­tion re­gard­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

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