Proposed Accessibility Laws Will Help Those ‘being left behind,’ Says Advocate

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This article was written by Savannah Awde on May 19. 2024 and published by CBC News.

The province has proposed laws to improve accessibility for public and private sector spaces, including standards and penalties for failing to comply.

Haley Flaro, the executive director of Ability New Brunswick, said it was a career highlight for her and her team to see the Accessibility Act tabled in the legislature on Friday.

“We had tears coming down our face,” Flaro said after the bill was introduced.

“I’m often told … we’ve made so much progress, and we have … but there are still too many people being left behind, and we have a lot of examples of that, unfortunately.”

Flaro hopes the proposed legislation will remedy that.

“It sets the stage for what government’s going to focus on. And there’s several … pillars in this legislation, like housing, transportation, disability services, built environment, and more,” she said in an interview.

“So it’s going to bring focus to those areas where we’re leaving people behind.”

Greg Turner, the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, said the bill will set equity targets, processes for complaints and enforcement, inspection guidelines, and more.

“As you can see, there’s a lot of moving parts in this legislation,” he said in a Friday press conference.

“The goal behind the legislation is simple: To create the conditions for full and effective participation in society for all, by focusing on identifying, removing and preventing barriers.”

That’s especially important, she said, as the number of people living in the province with a disability has increased.

“New Brunswick has the second-highest rate of disability in Canada … at 35.3 per cent of the population, second only to Nova Scotia,” she said.

If the bill is passed, the province would also have to create an accessibility advisory board and accessibility office to report to the Department of Post-secondary Education, Training and Labour.

Turner said the office would support both the advisory board and the minister.

“It will have a role to play in education and capacity building, receiving and investigating complaints, and working on compliance and enforcement,” he said.

For Flaro, one of the most significant changes would be what she calls a “really progressive definition” of disability.

“Right now in the provincial government, the federal government as well, there are so many different definitions of disability that often exclude people,” she said.

“The new definition that’s been proposed in the act is very inclusive. For example, it now includes people with learning disabilities … so we’re really hopeful that this will set the tone for standardizing a definition across departments.”

Having that consistent definition across departments can make all the difference for someone trying to access support, Flaro said.

In a Friday press conference, Dan Mills, the deputy minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, said the department hopes to have the accessibility office and advisory board established within three months.

The department and others within the provincial government will create their own accessibility plans over the next 12 to 18 months, Mills said, with the first standards to come into effect in 18 to 24 months.

Turner did not specify when the province will begin to enforce accessibility plans in the private sector.