31 May 2016

Barrier Free BC ***Update***

I am very pleased that at last night's meeting of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, my motion to support Barrier Free provincial legislation passed unanimously. My thanks to Commissioner Casey Crawford for seconding the motion, and to Rob Sleath of Barrier Free BC for all of his inspiration and support.

30 May 2016

Why a Barrier Free BC?

You may not realize this, but there are approximately 604,000(1) British Columbians with disabilities. This number will keep growing as our society ages. Disability affects everyone. Everyone will develop limitations eventually, or perhaps a permanent life-altering disability, as they age.

These people continue to face unnecessary and unfair barriers in areas of provincial jurisdiction such as provincial and municipal government services, public transit, education, health services and public establishments like stores and restaurants. These barriers mean that British Columbians with disabilities can’t fully participate in all that our great province has to offer.

As a public school teacher, I see first-hand the limitations we put on some of our students with disabilities. Some schools are not accessible at all, so that students must travel out of their neighbourhood to access their fundamental right to an education.

Without disability legislation that sets out a comprehensive legislated plan to remove existing barriers and to prevent the creation of new ones, far too many British Columbians will be unnecessarily challenged and prevented from fully participating in their communities. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a part of Canada’s Constitution, and the BC Human Rights Code make it illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability. However, those laws do not set specific, detailed standards for accessibility.

A British Columbians with Disabilities Act would set standards for accessibility so we can start removing and preventing these barriers. Existing disability protections like the BC Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms require individuals to bear the undue hardship of having to personally fight to remove and prevent barriers.

A British Columbians with Disabilities Act would set out enforceable accessibility standards so that all barriers are systematically removed and prevented along reasonable time-lines without individuals having to battle these situations, often through a human rights complaint, one barrier at a time.

Everyone either has a disability now or will develop one as they age. So this issue has an impact on everyone. I’m asking tonight for your support to encourage the province to enact a British Columbians with Disabilities Act.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation has much it can share with other governments concerning accessibility. Let’s encourage our provincial government to learn from us in making a barrier free BC.

A non-partisan grassroots organization called Barrier-Free BC is gaining public support as they spread the word about this. Find out more by visiting their website: barrierfreebc.org

(1) Extrapolated from Statistics Canada – 2012 Canadian Survey of Disability and Statistics Canada 2015 Annual Population Estimates

19 May 2016

13 Principles for a British Columbians with Disabilities Act

Barrier-Free BC is a Non-Partisan Campaign advocating for the Enactment of a Strong and Effective British Columbians with Disabilities Act, providing a Barrier-Free province for All Persons with Disabilities. Below are the principles of the organization.

1)    The Act sets a timeline:
The goal of the British Columbians with Disabilities Act is to achieve a Barrier-Free province within a specific and clearly defined deadline set by the legislation; a timeline which begins immediately upon proclamation and will include checkpoints at regular intervals until existing and on-going barriers are removed.
2)    The Act applies to all:
The Act will apply to all persons with disabilities whether their disability is considered physical, sensory, cognitive, communication or mental health related and will include visible, invisible, permanent or episodic conditions. The Act will apply to all government departments, crown corporations, companies, organizations and any other entity that is regulated under provincial jurisdiction.
3)    The Act sets the bar:
A British Columbians with Disabilities Act will supersede all other legislation, regulations or policies which provide lesser protections or entitlements but will protect any rights which persons with disabilities have already earned and currently enjoy.
4)    The  Act removes barriers:
The Act will require the Government, including provincial and municipal regulated organizations, to be made fully accessible to all persons with disabilities by the removal of existing barriers and the prevention or creation of new barriers. These barriers may include but are not limited to physical, legal, information, communication, attitudinal, technological or other barriers.
5)    The Act champions barrier-free goods, services and facilities:
The Act will require all provincially regulated service providers to ensure that their services and facilities are fully usable by persons with disabilities based on principles of universal design. Service providers will be required to develop and implement detailed plans to remove existing and to prevent the creation of new barriers.
6)    The Act champions barrier-free workplaces and employment:
The British Columbians with Disabilities Act will require organizations to take proactive steps to achieve a barrier-free workplace and employment opportunities. Employers will be required to develop and implement plans for the removal of existing and prevention of new workplace and employment barriers.
7)    The Act charges Government with the responsibility to lead, educate, train, inform and review:
The British Columbians with Disabilities Act will require Government to lead the province toward achieving the goals of the Act and fulfilling its mandate. It will further require  Government to provide education, information and resources for provincially regulated businesses and organizations which must comply with the Act. The BC Government will be required to appoint an independent person to periodically review and publicly report (at regular intervals) on progress towards the goal of full accessibility.
8)    The Act is enforceable:
The Act will provide for a prompt, independent and effective process for enforcement. This will include a comprehensive and clearly defined avenue for persons with disabilities who encounter barriers which are in violation of the legislation to raise and submit complaints to enforcement officials.
9)    The Act is made real through regulations:
The BC Government will be required to make regulations that clearly define the steps needed for full compliance under the Act and that said regulations be independently reviewed a minimum of every four years. It will be open to recommendations made on an industry-by-industry or sector-by-sector basis. This will include a requirement that input be obtained from persons with disabilities and disability-related organizations prior to enactment.
10) The Act will ensure public monies are not used to create or perpetuate barriers:
The Act will require that the BC Government ensures that no public money is used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities. Government departments, agencies, and crown corporations should be required to make it a strict condition of funding programs, transfer payments, subsidies, loans, grants, capital or infrastructure projects that no such funds may be used to create or perpetuate barriers. There should also be a requirement that procurement of goods, services or facilities be fully accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. The BC Government should be required to monitor and enforce these requirements and to periodically report to the public on their compliance.
11) The Act is a lens through which to vet legislation:
The Act will require the BC Government to review existing legislation and regulations identifying possible accessibility barriers and develop timelines to address the shortcomings.  Government will review all future proposed legislation and regulations before they are enacted to insure accessibility barriers are not about to be created.
12) The Act sets policy:
The British Columbians with Disabilities Act will influence and affect the development and implementation of provincial policy thereby enhancing and improving access to a full range of goods, services and programs not currently available to persons with disabilities in BC.
13) The Act has real force and real effect:
The Act must be more than mere window dressing. It should contribute meaningfully to the improvement of the position of persons with disabilities in British Columbia enabling them to fully participate and enjoy community life. It must have real force through effective enforcement mechanisms which lead to real effect.