What’s your Barrier?
Best Resolved through Human Rights Complaints or a British Columbians with Disabilities Act
Despite the fact that it’s 2016, those of us with disabilities continue to face a myriad of barriers throughout our communities. Such barriers cover the entire spectrum: physical, legal, bureaucratic, informational, communication-related, attitudinal, technological, policy-related and more. While many of us attempt to break down these barriers by raising awareness or through education, we often give up due to frustration or sheer exhaustion. It’s often a case of David versus Goliath, if you will.
Some courageously forge ahead by filing discrimination complaints with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, navigating a bureaucracy that often requires time, knowledge and financial resources. But, should one single person, or even a group, be required to seek a legal ruling to break down their barriers, one at a time?
In BC, this is all too often the only alternative. However, imagine if our province had a strong, effective and enforceable British Columbians with Disabilities Act.
In late November 2015, a grass roots group of individuals with diverse disabilities ratified 13 principles upon which a yet-to-be-developed British Columbians with Disabilities Act should be based. A non-partisan campaign branded Barrier-Free BC was launched immediately thereafter and began calling upon BC’s Legislative Assembly to enact a strong, effective and enforceable British Columbians with Disabilities Act. A British Columbians with Disabilities Act would set out a comprehensive legislated plan to remove existing barriers and to prevent the creation of new ones.
Far too many British Columbians are prevented from fully participating in society. Both The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a major part of Canada’s Constitution, and the BC Human Rights Code make it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. However, those laws do not set specific, detailed standards for accessibility; instead, they require people who experience discrimination to individually investigate and fight their own legal cases.
In 2005, Dalton McGuinty’s government enacted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, requiring Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025. Manitoba, under the leadership of Greg Selinger, enacted the Manitobans with Disabilities Act in 2013. Nova Scotia is committed to introducing the province’s first accessibility legislation this year and is currently working on drafting the bill. At the federal level, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough has been given the mandate to lead an engagement process with provinces, territories, municipalities and stakeholders leading to the passage of a Canadians with Disabilities Act. When enacted, it will require programs, services and facilities that only fall under federal jurisdiction to be accessible to Canadians with disabilities. Those of us who reside in BC need a Provincial Act that protects the rights of, and removes current barriers for, British Columbians with disabilities.
Premier Clark announced her government’s initiative Accessibility 2024 on June 16 2014. While this was a positive step, the shortcoming of this initiative is that it is neither mandatory nor enforceable. The print material circulated that day, under the heading Inclusive Government, stated the government would “consult on options for a made-in-BC approach to accessibility-related legislation.” Barrier-Free BC believes it is time for the Legislative Assembly to just say “Yes!” to the enactment of a disabilities Act.
For more information regarding the Barrier-Free BC campaign, we invite you to visit www.barrierfreebc.org. You will find the 13 principles upon which a British Columbians with Disabilities Act should be based, an Action Kit with suggestions on how you can promote the campaign, and an opportunity to add your voice to the steadily growing number of supporters across British Columbia. Additional inquiries are welcome – please send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted by Rob Sleath
Member, Barrier-Free BC Steering Committee
© Rob Sleath – February 2016
This article was also submitted to Disability Alliance BC’s Transition Magazine for upcoming publication in spring 2016.