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Members of New Advisory Board Want Nova Scotia to Rethink Accessibility

12 people have been chosen to advise province on how to implement new act By Emma Smith, CBC News Posted: Feb 18, 2018

Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act required half of the board to be people with disabilities.

Members of Nova Scotia’s new accessibility advisory board say it’s time to think about accessibility in a new way as the province works to implement legislation.

Cynthia Bruce, a blind activist and faculty member in Acadia University’s School of Education, said the redrafted Accessibility Act that was introduced last spring offers a profound opportunity.

But we need to get it right, she said.

“And we often have a really narrow way of thinking of accessibility in some respects in that we kind of think about ramps and elevators, things that are fairly obvious and in some respects pretty easy to fix.”

What’s often forgotten are the larger considerations around inclusive education and employment, said Bruce, who’s one of 12 people who form the advisory board.

She’ll join a diverse group of disabled advocates and community representatives from across the province who will make recommendations to Justice Minister Mark Furey on how to implement legislation.

It’s all in an effort to make Nova Scotia fully accessible by 2030, the province said in a statement.

Bruce said the first step is to no longer think about accessibility as an option.

“We tend to think about accessibility as something that’s nice to do if we can afford it, and when we approach it from that perspective it really means that we’re saying some people are naturally excludable by virtue of disability,” she said.

Beyond physical barriers

Alexander Peeler is one of the board’s youngest members. The 25-year-old Bridgewater-area resident has a YouTube series where he opens up about his own struggles living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

“In the past Nova Scotia hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to things like accessibility, so I’m quite pleased that the government is making accessibility a priority,” said Peeler.

Alexander Peeler, 25, says he wants the board to look at how to make rural communities more accessible. (YouTube Screenshot)

He said in all the advocacy work he does his goal is simple: help people feel like a part of their communities.

“I think there’s also a lot that needs to be done in terms of eliminating some of the systematic barriers … and also eliminating some of the attitudinal barriers, you know, how people perceive the disabled community,” he said.

Powerful, positive legislation

After going back to the drawing board, the Liberal government redrafted its Accessibility Act. It’s now a “very powerful, positive piece of legislation in the province,” according to Rosalind Penfound, vice-chair of the advisory board.

Penfound, vice president of Nova Scotia Community College, said it’s a good thing for all Nova Scotians, not just those living with disabilities.

Rosalind Penfound
Rosalind Penfound says she grew up in a house with a severely disabled person, and was left with hearing loss after battling cancer. (Facebook/Rosalind Penfound)

“It’s the right thing for the economy. It’s the right thing in terms of our culture, and I think it’s what Nova Scotians probably if they think hard about it, realize it’s what we need to be doing; it’s who we are,” she said.

One of the board’s first tasks will be to develop a plan that outlines how Nova Scotia can become accessible by its 2030 target.? According to the province, that work is supposed to be completed by the fall.

Bruce said advocates have been consulted many times in the past, but the provincial government doesn’t have a good track record of listening.

She hopes it’s different this time around.

“Legislation really only works to address the most egregious violations of disability rights, and we still have to have the political will and the desire to make a culture shift around making sure our communities are welcoming and accessible,” she said.

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