As the B.C. government develops accessibility legislation, a left-wing think-tank is calling on policy-makers to consider how historical injustices and continuing discrimination have led to a society that still excludes the deaf and disabled.
From Sept. 16 to Nov. 29 of this year, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction collected public feedback to help develop the new legislation it says will “guide government, persons with disabilities and the broader community to work together to identify, remove and prevent barriers.”
A framework shows how the legislation could work by including standards for service delivery, employment, information, communication and transportation. Minister Shane Simpson said he wants the legislation tabled in the fall of 2020.
The Broadbent Institute commissioned consultant Gabrielle Peters for its submission, which she said is focused on justice and rectifying decades of oppression and discrimination.
“I wrote this because we’re doing it wrong,” said Peters, a Vancouver writer with chronic health issues who uses a wheelchair.
“We have to change how we think about accessibility. We have to change who we think about in terms of accessibility, in order to start doing it right.”
The Broadbent submission first discusses the historical impacts of colonialism, eugenics, institutionalization and sterilization on deaf and disabled Canadians.
It then looks at how those experiences have led to deaf and disabled people being disproportionately represented among the poor, homeless and as victims of violence. They are excluded from education, employment and public and community life, and face barriers in the health care system, the submission says.
“Nearly half of all Human Rights complaints (49 per cent) in Canada are disability related,” Peters wrote. “Discrimination against disabled people is rampant while simultaneously being almost entirely invisible in the public discourse about discrimination.”
Broadbent makes 16 recommendations it says will help repair that damage, the first being the legislation should consider the phrase “nothing about us without us” by including “deaf and disabled British Columbians” in its name.
“Decisions about what was best for disabled people made by the province’s respected leaders resulted in the worst outcomes and a shameful period in this province’s history,” Peters wrote. “This new legislation must spell out whom it is for and what it is intended to begin to rectify and prevent.”
The second recommendation urges government to write legislation that goes beyond making B.C. “barrier-free,” and works to fight oppression. It recommends that government name ableism as the source of systemic oppression of disabled people and the cause of inaccessibility.
The third recommendation calls for the legislation to be intersectional. This would mean recognizing that class, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other aspects of a person’s identity and life experience are linked to various other systems of oppression that marginalize disabled people and make parts of B.C. society inaccessible to them.
The full submission can be read at broadbent.ca. Peters said she hopes it shows to readers that accessibility “isn’t a gift” to be handed to deaf and disabled people, but a human right that they’ve been denied.
The submission also features contributions from harm reduction policy specialist Karen Ward and from urban planner Amina Yasin, who write about racism, ableism and the built environment.
Maria Dobrinskaya, B.C. director for Broadbent, said the submission’s justice-based approach could guide other ministries in their approaches to housing policy, municipal bylaws, transit and other issues.
Government may choose not to implement all 16 recommendations, Dobrinskaya said. But she is pleased the submission will reach the desks of Minister Simpson and other policy-makers, adding that “it’s important that it’s on the record.”
“I think it is very broad in its scope,” she said. “I’m hopeful though, that the comprehensive nature of the approach that we took helps to inform more specific focus on policy that the ministry will be looking at.”
The federal government passed Canada’s first national accessibility legislation in May, meant to “identify, remove and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction. Those include built environments, federally run programs and services, banking, telecommunications and transportation that crosses provincial lines.
That legislation, however, doesn’t address barriers within provincial jurisdiction. Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have passed accessibility laws, and Newfoundland and Labrador are developing their own, too.
But B.C. — where more than 926,000 people older than 15 have some form of disability — has lagged behind.
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