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Karla Verschoor, Inclusion BC

B.C. seeks public input as it drafts new accessibility law

Thursday, September 26, 2019 @ 9:22 AM | By Ian Burns

The British Columbia government is asking the public for help to define future legislation on accessibility and inclusivity.

The consultation is aimed at creating legislation to help create a “barrier-free” B.C. The government is seeking to promote inclusion and accessibility by addressing barriers (including physical, technological and attitudinal barriers) within areas of provincial jurisdiction that prevent the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in B.C. communities. Areas could include service delivery, employment, buildings and public spaces, information technology and transportation.

“Integrating accessibility into every area of life is central to creating livable communities including workplaces, buildings, neighbourhoods and businesses,” said provincial Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson. “I look forward to this consultation, which will guide our efforts to develop legislation that will make a difference for British Columbians living with a disability.”

The government has provided an accessibility framework document stating its principles in developing accessibility legislation and is asking residents to engage in the consultation process by filling out an online questionnaire, filing a written submission or attending a public meeting.

Val Litwin, president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, said “now is the time for a deeper accessibility conversation in British Columbia.”

“It’s important ‘human homework’ for us as a civil society, but there is a huge economic opportunity here when it comes to workforce inclusion and supercharging economies — and communities — of the future,” he said.

Karla Verschoor, Inclusion BC

Karla Verschoor, executive director of Inclusion BC

Karla Verschoor, executive director of advocacy group Inclusion BC, said things like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms “are really not that impactful in sussing out system barriers to accessibility” in the absence of legislation in the province,

“I think this consultation will give us a mechanism to take a deeper dive and expand our learning of where our systems themselves are reinforcing exclusion for people,” she said. “When I look at the standards [in the accessibility framework] they are very similar to those in Ontario and the other provinces in terms of priorities.”

Verschoor said the government’s approach is “a very well-thought out pathway” but without standards and measures “we run the risk of not giving this the dedication it needs to support everybody to live inclusively in their communities.”

She added she would be looking closely at any service delivery framework that is set up, to see how far it goes and whether it makes headway into the province’s health and education system.

“I think as a community and a province, we have been pretty clear in understanding physical barriers but we need to expand our understanding of barriers to include those cultural attitudes, in terms of the way we use language and the way people think,” she said. “Some of those attitudinal barriers are a bit harder to measure and articulate, and are going to be important to consider if we are talking about the removal of all barriers to accessibility, not just the physical ones.”

The consultation runs until Nov. 29.