The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, March 2, 2017
HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s proposed accessibility legislation needs to be significantly strengthened, advocates for the disabled told lawmakers Thursday.
Bill 59 was delayed last fall after heavy criticism from the groups it was supposed to help.
Sue Uteck, of the March of Dimes Canada, told the legislature’s law amendments committee that the Accessibility Act is weaker than similar legislation in Ontario and Manitoba — the only provinces with accessibility laws.
“If enacted as is, it would be the weakest such law in effect in any province that has enacted a comprehensive disability accessibility law,” said Uteck.
Uteck said the bill needs a deadline for accessibility, and provide for effective enforcement of regulations.
“Effective enforcement is fundamental to a law’s failure or success,” she said.
She said responsibility for accessibility standards recommendations should be left to an arms-length independent body, as should any inspection regime.
“An inspector’s compliance order is not a political issue and should not be made into one,” said Uteck.
Uteck said the bill’s mandatory economic impact assessment for each standard should be eliminated, because costs are hard to predict and are often exaggerated.
Gerry Post, who represents a coalition of 35 disabled groups, said the bill’s economic analysis provisions would render it “stillborn.”
“Accessibility is a basic human right,” said Post. “We know there are concerns in the private sector and alarmists say that this act will put them out of business. This is furthest from the truth.”
He said the legislation as written is only a promise to act and needed some teeth, including a broader definition of disability.
Post said making the province more accessible should be seen as a driver for business, with about 20 per cent of the population living with disabilities. He said that figure is projected to grow to around 30 per cent by 2026.
Barry Abbott, a visually impaired man, told the committee that he retired after a successful career at Saint Mary’s University.
Abbott said if given the chance the disabled can contribute to the economy, and they are simply looking for equal treatment under the law.
“We aren’t asking for special treatment, just the same treatment that everybody else gets. I get so angry when I hear this special treatment crap.”
When the legislation was tabled in November, Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said it would provide a framework for establishing accessibility standards for communities and businesses.
It proposed an advisory board of 12 voting members, with at least six being people with disabilities.
The initial goal was to phase in provincial standards over a number of years.
The federal government is also crafting legislation. Last month, Carla Qualtrough, the minister of sport and persons with disabilities, said she hoped to have an act before Parliament by sometime early next year.
The anticipated Canadians with Disabilities Act is expected to address areas that fall under federal jurisdiction, including everything from building codes to customer service. It would affect financial services such as banks, telecommunications and interprovincial transportation.
Qualtrough has said the federal law would have to work alongside existing provincial laws.
Nova Scotia’s public hearing is scheduled to continue Friday.