In Nova Scotia, we are famous for dragging our feet. Change comes, but only after so much wasted time and lives sacrificed while waiting to embrace it.
I would like to offer a couple of thoughts on how I would like the deaf and disabled communities to be treated by the provincial government.
Traditionally, my community has been treated as children or patients by the government of Nova Scotia. Please call us citizens.
Stop looking at the disabled and deaf communities as being on the outside looking in, as government folks do the “hard work” on our behalf. We are the experts on what we need and how to get there. Nothing about us without us.
I implore our politicians to embrace Bill 59, which was passed in Nova Scotia in 2017.
The Respecting Accessibility Act aims to make Nova Scotia inclusive and barrier-free by 2030 and includes six accessibility standards that are currently under development, according to Accessibility Services Canada.
We can use the bill as inspiration for how to deal with deaf and disabled citizens. Since the bill became law, the government has operated as if it doesn’t exist.
After Bill 59 was passed, the legislature’s law amendments committee gave disabled citizens from all corners of Nova Scotia three business days to arrange rides to the legislature to exercise our democratic rights.
Three business days for a community in which many members have to arrange for a ride two weeks ahead of time. This is why my first words to the legislature’s law amendments committee were to point out how undemocratic the process was, at that point.
Our group, the Bill 59 Community Coalition, played a huge part in getting the committee to get together six months later under a better, more inclusive setting. The government was so impressed, many of us were picked to work for the Accessibility Directorate.
More needs to be done too to make Province House and our city more accessible.
The ramp to the Speaker’s chair should remain, making it accessible. This measure for Speaker Kevin Murphy was not a workaround, it was an upgrade. It improves the house because it allows more access to our physical democracy.
We must also ramp one side of the Hollis Street entrance to the legislature. As it is now, wheelchairs must come through a door directly under the steps the government uses to enter, while I must enter under some stairs, and then cross the lobby to go through security.
Use us. Please. From our group are some of the smartest, most passionate and most creative citizens in Nova Scotia. We’ve become that because we have had to fight our own government for the barest of accommodations for generations.
Work with us instead of against us.
Paul Vienneau is an accessibility advocate who became well known in Halifax after he was seen breaking up thick ice from his wheelchair in downtown Halifax in 2015, and for his fight for better accessibility.