Over the last several months British Columbians were encouraged to participate in the Disability White Paper process with a goal to develop a strategy for making BC “the most progressive jurisdiction for people living with disabilities in Canada.” Community participation was an essential part of the process consistent with the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by Canada in 2010.
In the process of 23 in-person sessions across 15 communities people voiced their opinions on a variety of topics relevant to individuals with disabilities.
Other ways people could contribute included emails, regular mail, phone calls, and organizational submissions. Care was taken to address one of the primary concerns that people had regarding the whole process which was whether, and how, the suggestions will be converted into actions.
In May of 2014, the BC Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation issued the “Disability Consultation Report: Moving Toward an Accessible B.C” The topics included were the ones considered the most prevalent in the consultation process—Inclusive Government, Accessible Service Delivery, Accessible Internet, Accessible Built Environment, Accessible Housing, Accessible Transportation, Income Support, Employment, Financial Security, Inclusive Communities, Emergency Preparedness, and Consumer Experience.
Spinal Cord Injury BC also participated in the process and submitted its recommendations based on the priority needs of our membership. We emphasized the importance of the continuity of disability-related government services to reduce a piecemeal approach to disability. We raised the issue of personal supports in their broadest sense. We suggested thinking of employment in the context of the environments in which work is possible. We also couldn’t avoid the issue of accessible housing and its critical shortage. We brought up the importance of recognizing the role of social networks in the lives of individuals with disabilities. Finally, we called for greater flexibility of the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP).
There was a lot of anticipation preceding the summit. The final document—Accessibility 2024—is an attempt to incorporate the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and reflect the needs of people with disabilities in BC. The importance of making government and its services truly accessible as well as working towards inclusive communities cannot be overestimated. However, as much as it is impossible to commit to solving an exhaustive list of the problems that people with disabilities face, it does not mean we should not try to be inclusive in our policy priorities.
We take words like “disability” and “accessibility” for granted and assume there is a tacit agreement on what we mean when we use them. However, considering the complexity of disability not only in terms of distinction between the types of impairments but also in terms of individual perceptions of disability, and lived experiences, the assumption that we can apply one definition to everyone is simply wrong. The effect of such over-generalized definitions is a lack of substance and commitments, and a dominance of relatively “safe” issues. For instance, unfortunately, mental health has not been addressed in this report.
We take words like “disability” and “accessibility” for granted and assume there is a tacit agreement on what we mean when we use them.
As a person with mobility impairment and an ally of people with spinal cord injuries through Spinal Cord Injury BC, I applaud the government’s efforts to address the issues of physical barriers which, despite of significant progress, are still relevant. But is it that everything there is to accessibility?
The consultation managed to build momentum but the likelihood of maintaining it over the 10 years that the action plan will span is very small—as is the case with any other long-term policy initiatives.
Commitment is one of the major predictors of successful policy. Accessible housing has been identified as one of the most pressing issues for our members but if all we do in this direction is “continuing to explore options for a registry of accessibility housing in BC,” we will not achieve much within 10 years.
Each goal is accompanied by the measurement tools that seem one-sided and reductive considering the complexity of the issues. If, in order to measure the success of the disability assistance system, we compare BC’s income supports, asset limits and earnings exemptions to other provinces, are we really capturing the difference that we want to capture? Numbers don’t tell the whole story, especially when it comes to the quality of life of people with disabilities.
The BC Government has a very ambitious goal in mind—to make BC the most progressive place in Canada for people with disabilities. Developing a roadmap is a step in the right direction but it’s equally important to remember that any roadmap should be open to further changes and improvements along the way…