Share your opinion on the proposed Accessibility Act – or if you don’t have an opinion – share mine!

Hopefully Canadians know that the government is currently conducting consultation on proposed disability legislation. I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s certainly a hot topic. The Americans have the ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – which is 25 years old, but Canadians have nothing.
Right now, the consultation is ongoing. If you live in Victoria or Vancouver – or indeed other large cities across Canada – you might have been able to take part in a face to face meeting. For the rest of us – and those in the big cities that weren’t able to attend the meetings – consultation is being done by an online survey. 

Accessibility Legislation Survey
I hope that all Canadians will take part in the consultation one way or another. If you do, here’s a few things to think about.

The first thing is – what is this Act to be called? As you will have read in my previous posts, words have meanings in the disability world, just as they do anywhere else. The Americans plumped for Americans with Disabilities, but that doesn’t really say anything about the intent behind the Act. The Canadian act is initially being called an accessibility act. That’s such a limiting title. It seems to imply physical things – ramps, signs, Braille. Things that help you get into building. But once you get into the building, what then? Are the services delivered in a way that make sense to you? Are the opportunities presented in an inclusive way? Disabled people need things to not only be accessible physically but to be inclusive, so it would be better if this was called the Accessibility and Inclusion Act.

Second – just what is it to cover? This is, after all, a federal act. As you can hear, I’m originally English. I have to say, the federal/provincial system still befuddles me, in its scope and bureaucracy. I had a conversation with an MP before the 2015 election and I was talking about the need for this act. For him, it all went back to the constitution and every example I brought up of how disabled people’s lives would be changed, he had a reason why that was not a federal issue. I find that sort of compartmentalized attitude infuriating! For me, the first job of the federal government is to raise the bar, not to nitpick the responsibility over each individual nut and bolt. Their job is to set the standard high so that everyone else follows, and to follow it up with actions. One example would be a National Building Code. How great it would be to have a common set of standards for accessibility across the country – and for the federal government to follow that by ensuring every federal building at least met the code, and demonstrated innovative ways to go beyond that minimum.

However, that leads me on to the next point. It’s got to have teeth. There’s no point in having these standards held high with no enforcement here on the ground. We have to reward excellence, share examples of good practice so that no-one is reinventing the wheel, and when organizations fail to meet the standards, there must be legislation to enforce compliance. 

There’s one point that comes first, last and everywhere in between. And that is – Nothing About Us, Without Us. What does that mean? Here’s a local example. In my recent discussions with my City about the needs of disabled people, I pointed out this discrepancy in the way it does business. The City has an agriculture committee, and on it are representatives of various sectors of the industry – fruit growers, the wineries, crops and so on. The City doesn’t have an accessibility committee, but any committee working on short term projects that involves disabled people has representatives of the health authority and that sort of thing, but no disabled people have a place at the table. Hence, if they want to know about growing apples, they ask people that grow apples. If they want to know about disability issues, they ask people who know stuff about disability, maybe, but have no lived experience. The Act must be developed with disabled people playing key roles. Disabled people must be the major players in all parts of the Act’s ongoing implementation. It seems so obvious, but clearly it isn’t.

I urge you to take part in the consultations. Do the survey. Talk to friends, colleagues, family about the issues. It’s time to make a difference.