In 2013, the incumbent government committed to a ten-year plan for equality, making Nova Scotia fully accessible and promising they would close institutions providing community-based living supports for all persons living with disabilities by 2023.
With 30 months to go, the progress thus far has been glacial. The Disability Rights Coalition is doubtful about seeing the promise of government into fruition.
The DRC conducted a months-long accountability review of the government’s progress on the roadmap for inclusive communities for people with disabilities.
“I wouldn’t say we were surprised but we were shocked and disappointed by the degree to which the government has failed to move forward on its commitments,” said Claire McNeil who serves as legal counsel for the DRC.
In 2013, a roadmap was designed by a task force consisting of people working in the government and community members which set out a careful step-by-step plan on how to deal with the crisis at the time in terms of excluding people with disabilities and segregating them.
Vicky Levack, who lives with cerebral palsy and is a disability-rights advocate with DRC has been living in a retirement home since she was 21 years old. She says even though she doesn’t live in an institution, it’s not right that her freedom has been violated as her options were limited.
“This care model is designed for people who are at the end of their lives. Not for people in the beginning or trying to live their life so we just need to give people better options so they don’t feel forced to choose like I was.”
Levack wants to see Liberal Party leader Iain Rankin keep the Liberals promise if he is elected premier.
“They had seven years to do something before the pandemic hit and they were dragging their feet, so, I don’t cut them a lot of slack. If they were doing something and had to stop and say, ‘OK, it’s going to be 2025 because the pandemic hit,’ I’d understand that,” said Levack.
Levack feels as though the disability community has been forgotten about.
NDP Leader, Gary Burrill says this is a major issue for his party. Out of the NDP’s provincial slate of candidates, there are five people with disabilities.
“This is something that is very important and that we value a great deal because those people — we’re so hopeful that we will be able to elect them — will then be able to bring to the caucus table, out of their lived experience the priorities that are needed,” said Burrill.
If elected in the election on Aug. 17, Burrill says the commitment of the NDP is to complete what the Liberals set out to do a decade ago.
“We will move forward getting people out in supportive housing or appropriate group homes,” he said.
PC Leader Tim Houston said although he didn’t see the report, he believes the current government hasn’t done enough for people living with disabilities.
“I think it goes back to a lack of vision and a lack of respect for people,” said Houston.
Currently, the government, through its Disability Supports program, is assisting fewer people with disabilities than it was in 2013 when it committed to the roadmap.
Levack says she wants whoever is elected to commit to the roadmap so she and others in her community can feel like “full-fledged,” citizens.
She says she has reached out to N.S. Liberal Leader Iain Rankin several times about the issue and his response has been that it is a complicated matter.
“We need to continue to build more small option homes. There is a waitlist that we need to make more traction on. We keep working with community organizations. It’s a hard timeline to meet,” said Rankin at a press briefing on Wednesday in Antigonish.