Nova Scotia moving forward with accessibility law action plan

Accessibility is a laudable goal, but how do Nova Scotia’s efforts compare with  similar efforts in other provinces?
Accessibility is a laudable goal, but how do Nova Scotia’s efforts compare with similar efforts in other provinces?

If all goes well, Nova Scotia should become fully accessible to those with disabilities by 2030.

The province recently announced an action plan to develop standards with a new document entitled Access by Design 2030, which “outlines how government, businesses, communities, and individuals will work together to create a province that is inclusive and accessible to all,” justice minister Mark Furey said in a news release.

The plan promises to provide full accessibility for disabled persons in education and shared space, said the minister. As well, it will provide equal access to government services, he said.

Accessibility is a laudable goal, but how do Nova Scotia’s efforts compare with  similar efforts in other provinces?

The federal government recently tabled Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, and promised to spend $290 million over six years to remove barriers. It also provides the ability for individuals to lodge complaints and it provides expanded powers of inspection against violators, who could be fined as much as $250,000.

“As accessibility legislation continues to be implemented across the country, employers should consider how they are going to manage the impact of the implementation of the accessibility legislation at both a provincial and federal level, and more generally accessibility and accommodation issues within the workplace,” said Simmy Sahdra, associate in the Labour and Employment Group with McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto.

As part of the new legislation, the federal government will appoint a chief accessibility officer, and an accessibility commissioner to act as a policing mechanism and ensure compliance.

But one activist said the federal government failed to force lawmakers to use a disability analysis with new laws just like it now does with gender issues and that should be addressed in the future. It would enable new laws to be considered with disability issues always in mind, said James Hicks, national co-ordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

In Ontario, the government was left with egg on its face recently when hearings to discuss the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act had to be cancelled in Thunder Bay, due to low turnout.

“People take off in the month of July and getting groups or organizations to commit to come to political hearings, especially just after a full-blown provincial election was very difficult,” said David Onley, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario who chairs the hearings.

Nonetheless, the ongoing review promises to look at improvements to five areas: customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation and the design of public spaces, according to a ministry press release.

The Ontario Act calls for regular reviews and this is the third one since it was enacted in 2005.

In B.C., the NDP government hopes to introduce a new bill that will alleviate the struggle for more than 600,000 residents of the province who are disabled.

But some advocates stress that the province would do well to learn from the Ontario model and improve it by creating a strong and independent enforcement effort.

“A best-case scenario for me would be to have a provincial disabilities minister (in B.C.) as a complement to the office of the federal disabilities minister. A lot of the reporting and enforcement of disability issues on all different levels is going to come down to provincial reporting,” said Kent Loftsgard, a journalist from Vancouver who has cerebral palsy, to the Vancouver Sun.

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