This was 1st review of Accessibility Act since it was passed in 2017 Michael Gorman, CBC News
Posted: May 21, 2023
The author of an independent review of the province’s Accessibility Act says there is much work to do if Nova Scotia is to meet its target of being fully accessible by 2030.
“We’re definitely not where we need to be,” Katie Aubrecht, Canada Research Chair in Health Equity and Social Justice and an associate professor in the St. Francis Xavier University department of sociology, said in an interview with CBC Mainstreet Cape Breton.
The act was adopted in 2017 and points to six areas for the removal and prevention of barriers. They are built environment, education, employment, goods and services, information and communication, and public transportation and transportation infrastructure.
Aubrecht’s review started in 2021, as required by the act. But she and her team found delayed progress, which affected how they approached the work.
Actual standards for several areas were supposed to be in place by now. Instead, reviewers found that only recommendations had been made for several areas.
“The review really was to focus on what were the standards, is the act effective, and so in our work we really paid attention to the standard development process,” said Aubrecht.
Recommendations include better communication
The review team consulted with 800 people and the report makes 48 recommendations.
Among other things, the report says more attention needs to be paid to sharing information with the public.
The review found that people who did know what was going on had good things to say, but that group is small and the government needs to find more ways to get the message out.
“Not everyone has access to internet or computers or devices or digital literacy,” said Aubrecht.
“Getting the word out is so important because what’s central to the act and to the success of this work is the ability of people who are first voice being able to participate and shape the process.”
Housing a key issue
Another key finding is the need to broaden the accessibility standards covered by the act.
“In the review consultations, poverty was identified as a significant and disabling accessibility barrier,” the document says.
“Accessibility barriers were also identified in health care, justice, and housing. These areas are not currently directly referenced in the act. For accessibility to be achieved, barriers to a living income, health equity, equal access to justice, and an appropriate place to live must be removed and prevented.”
Aubrecht said housing is a particular issue. As it’s written, the act allows an exemption from accessibility standards for private homes with three or fewer units.
“I think given the current situation that we’re in with housing, there’s a real problem if we’re going to say that small multi-unit residences will not be subject to any accessibility standards. We have to do the work to ensure that housing is accessible to all.”
Government reviewing report, committed to goal
The review calls for defined timelines so the public can understand and measure progress.
Many Nova Scotians have a direct interest in the matter. A 2017 national survey showed 30.4 per cent of Nova Scotians identified as having one or more disabilities, the highest rate in the country. The Canadian average was 22.3 per cent.
A Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement that the government is committed to having a more equitable and accessible province by 2030.
Peter McLaughlin said officials are reviewing Aubrecht’s report and recommendations and would have a formal response later this year.
The province’s accessibility directorate is on track to have work underway on all six standards by the end of the year and officials would be looking for efficiencies where possible while reviewing Aubrecht’s report, said McLaughlin.
“We are making good progress towards our 2030 goal, and we believe the recommendations from her report can help us achieve that goal.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org