The Spring Issue of The Spin magazine is now at the printer. Here is my editorial from the issue that will be online and at your doorstep shortly.
What would it take to make BC the most progressive place to live for people with disabilities?
The Government of BC wants to know, and they asked for your help to answer the question. Through the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation’s Disability White Paper Process, British Columbians have been invited to submit their ideas on how government, businesses and communities can increase accessibility and decrease barriers for people living with disabilities.
The public consultation phase started in December 2013 and ended on March 11, 2014. It involved community consultation sessions in cities and towns throughout the province, an online discussion forum, and direct submissions to government. Over that period, over 25,000 people participated in the process. There were 30,000 visits to the disability white paper website; close to 1,200 people participated in 23 accessible, in-person consultation sessions; and more than 7,000 comments have been received through an online blog, by mail, phone, and in-person sessions. The website is no longer accepting ideas and comments but you can still view the contributions made through the consultation process – click here to go to the BC Disability White Paper website.
SCI BC contributed to the process in many ways, including as Community Champions who helped facilitate several community consultation sessions throughout the province. We also submitted our ideas about how to decrease barriers, increase accessibility, and enhance community participation.
Sound underwhelming? Maybe, but a White Paper can be an important foundation for changes in government policy and action. How? Wikipedia describes a White Paper as “an authoritative report or guide helping readers to understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.” They are tools for participatory democracy, helping government incorporate public opinion into their policy.
At the outset, it sounded like a bit of stretch to think the process would be a meaningful one. After all, how many times does the disability community need to be consulted before any meaningful changes are implemented? However, I, along with other members of SCI BC’s staff, were pleasantly surprised by the disability community’s willingness to be constructive contributors to the process. Sure, there was some griping at the consultation sessions (how could there not be?) but overall, people were eager to contribute ideas for change.
The catch with all of this is that any changes that do result from the process will be those that do not require new money to be thrown into the pot—government has deficit and debt challenges that suggest this will not happen. Instead, changes will see money used more effectively to meet the challenges. What are those changes? Who knows, but we think there can be wins with respect to easily addressed policies relating to the province-wide adoption of an accessible and adaptable housing building code for all new construction, individualized funding for supports that are more secure and portable, and better options that support independent community living.
It’s naïve to think that the Disability White Paper process will lead to all the changes needed for making BC the most progressive place for people with disabilities to live. That would require a massive deconstruction and rebuild of our structures and systems. However, it’s not unreasonable to think that some positive change will arise out of the process, that tangible movement toward the ultimate goal will occur. SCI BC will continue to help push for that and so should all British Columbians.
It’s early in the process. The White Paper itself will be developed and made available in late May or early June. This will be followed by a Summit in June during which short, medium, and long-term strategies and action plans will be developed.
Sound like a lot of talk? Yes. But at least there is talk, and at least it has involved talk from the disability community.
Now, the key question is: has there been enough listening?