The Canadian Press Staff
Published Tuesday, December 3, 2019
HALIFAX — Municipalities and universities will have a year to develop plans to remove barriers to accessibility as Nova Scotia continues to move towards its legislated goal of making the province more accessible to people with disabilities by 2030.
Justice Minister Mark Furey announced a step Tuesday that would see municipalities, villages, universities, the Nova Scotia Community College and provincial libraries designated as public sector bodies under the provincial Accessibility Act on April 1.
Furey said those bodies will then have one year to establish accessibility advisory committees and implement plans aimed at making buildings and public spaces accessible to employees under provincial standards that are being developed. Those standards are expected to be in place by 2022.
Furey said the work is about more than simply modifying buildings.
“It encompasses how we develop and deliver our programs and services and ensure our workplaces are equipped with the aids and technologies needed to support the needs of employees,” he said.
Nova Scotia passed its accessibility law in 2017, joining Ontario and Manitoba as the only provinces with such legislation.
The federal government passed the Accessible Canada Act last June, while British Columbia is planning its own legislation to be introduced sometime in 2020.
Furey said Nova Scotia’s law is about creating a “cultural shift” in communities and workplaces — a movement he said has already begun.
As an example, Furey pointed to the town of Wolfville, N.S., which earlier this year adopted the province’s first comprehensive municipal accessibility plan.
He also highlighted work by the Municipality of the County of Antigonish and the Municipality of the County of Inverness, which partnered last summer to create accessible beaches in their communities.
Michelle Mahoney, a receptionist and office assistant at Dalhousie’s law school, applauded ongoing efforts to improve accessibility but said she still encounters challenges even in places designated as accessible.
“I attended an event last year … and the venue celebrated that it was accessible,” Mahoney said. “When I needed to use the bathroom there was an accessible stall, which was really great, however I could not reach the taps or the sink to wash my hands that was a barrier.”
Mahoney has arthrogryposis, a condition that saw her born with clubbed feet, her hands turned at the wrist, and a left knee that doesn’t bend because of a lack of muscle. Her right hip was also dislocated.
She said any future changes will have to consider a number of variables because of the varying array of disabilities that exist.
“Somebody with a disability does not come with a book of instructions, so you have to figure things out as you go,” she said.
Halifax Coun. Waye Mason, who is past president of the Federation of Nova Scotia Municipalities, said while municipalities are willing to do the work, smaller communities that are already financially strapped will need help from the province.
“Doing those changes can be quite expensive, especially doing them sensitively to heritage buildings,” said Mason. “We need to have that active conversation about what needs to be done and how we are going to pay for it.”