Global News has obtained documents showing Nova Scotia doesn’t track which of its buildings are accessible to people with disabilities.
In an access to information request, Global News asked for an inventory of government owned or leased buildings and whether they meet accessibility standards set in building and health codes.
The government’s response was that no such inventory exists.
“The extent to which [buildings] are barrier-free, or what portions or sections of the buildings have barrier-free elements, is not available,” reads a letter from transportation and infrastructure deputy minister Paul LaFleche.
Accessibility rules in the building code came into force in 1989, buildings built before then are exempted from the modern rules. So, 28 years later, the buildings only have to be brought up to code if there is a change in occupancy classification or a major renovation.
From court buildings to crown corporations and everything in between, LaFleche said a “substantive percentage” of government buildings predate the barrier free code requirements.
None of the disability advocates who spoke with Global News were surprised to hear that the government doesn’t have a comprehensive picture of the barriers in its own buildings.
WATCH: A public hearing on proposed accessibility legislation was held a public house Thursday. Steve Silva reports.
Gerry Post is part of a group of people and organizations advocating for change through the provincial government’s accessibility bill and have been calling for sweeping changes to how the government promotes and enforces accessibility. Post is calling for the province to apply an “accessibility lens” to its operations.
“It’s really unfortunate. By government buildings not being accessible it doesn’t allow for people with a disability to participate in government or employment,” Post said. “If a building is not accessible you cannot be employed in that building.”
Dalhousie University law professor Archie Kaiser said the failure of the government to track accessibility in its own buildings is a symptom of a “malaise” in the government.
“Successive governments have not had the rights of persons with disabilities in the foreground of their planning and priorities,” he said.
Post is calling on the province to do an audit of its buildings and then set a timeline for bringing them all up to modern standards within four years.
After the government received a failing grade for its first attempt at provincial accessibility legislation in the fall, the provincial Liberals went back to the drawing board and are expected to present a new version of Bill 59 when the legislature returns next week.
The government says the bill will help break down barriers in the province. ReachAbility CEO Tova Sherman said once it becomes law it will force the government to put more of a focus on accessibility.
“I believe with Bill 59, we’re going to be creating an environment where [accessibility] is a priority,” she said.
While tackling physical barriers is crucial, Kaiser said it is just the tip of the iceberg to making Nova Scotia an accessible province. He’s calling on the government to create a comprehensive inventory of all barriers that people in Nova Scotia face — whether they’re invisible or not.
“People with disabilities live in poverty and are socially excluded and stigmatized,” Kaiser said. “So we need to think about other barriers to employment, education, housing, and just a decent standard of living.”
In an emailed statement to Global News, the justice department said it’s aware that not all buildings used by provincial departments and agencies are accessible.
“We recognize this as an issue and are working to update buildings to remove barriers and make them more accessible as we move through renovations.”
The government says it ensures the buildings that it leases and buildings where “public-facing” services are provided are accessible. The promise of accessibility legislation was part of the Liberal’s 2013 campaign platform.
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