Despite Ambitious Accessibility Law, N.S. Acknowledges It Will Not Be Barrier-Free By 2030 | CBC News

Victoria Levack remembers how she felt the day Nova Scotia passed the Accessibility Act seven years ago: hopeful. 

“I thought, oh good, they’ll finally do something,” she said in a recent interview about the provincial legislation designed to remove barriers by 2030 for people with disabilities.

“It’ll be slow, because government’s always slow, but this means they’ll actually do stuff,” she said.  

Now, CBC News has learned the province of Nova Scotia intends to have standards and enforcement in place by 2030, but acknowledges it will not meet its goal to be barrier-free. 

It’s a major shift in the messaging from the province, which until recently has often used language about its “commitment to create an accessible province for persons with disabilities by 2030.” 

Levack is a disability rights advocate who uses a wheelchair. Her feelings about the progress toward 2030 have changed over the years. 

To Levack, it feels like the province has moved the goalposts. 

“They realized they’re not going to reach the goal that they set in 2017,” she said Thursday. 

“Instead of saying, ‘Oh, we didn’t reach our goal,’ which sounds bad and like breaking a promise, they’ve chosen to move that goal so they can actually accomplish it.”

The 2017 Accessibility ActThe province’s commitment comes from the Accessibility Act, a law passed in 2017 with support from all three major parties. Then justice minister Diana Whalen told the legislature the 2030 date was added to strengthen the bill. 

“That is only, believe it or not, just 13 years away,” Whalen said, adding the law intentionally used the word “achieve.” 

“We want to achieve the goals, not just approach them,” Whalen said. “We’ve used that stronger word ‘achieve,’ rather than the aspirational ‘improve.'” 

Former MLA Diana Whalen was justice minister when the Accessibility Act passed in April 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)The province laid out a plan called Access by Design 2030, which identified six areas for new “standards.” The province’s accessibility website lists these as: 

Built environment: removing barriers from buildings and outdoor spaces. Education: giving students with disabilities better access to the education system. Employment: supporting people to find meaningful employment.  Goods and services: providing “equitable access” to goods and services. Public transportation: making it easier for people with disabilities to get where they need to go. Information and communication: making sure people with disabilities can receive, understand and share the information they need. The standards will be written with input from people with disabilities, and will provide rules against which people or organizations can be measured for compliance. 

Mark Furey was justice minister in 2018 when the province’s plan for getting to 2030 was unveiled. (Jean Laroche/CBC)During the launch of the Access by Design plan, Justice Minister Mark Furey, who took over from Diana Whalen, addressed the crowd.

“Last year, as many of you would know, Nova Scotia passed the historic legislation that will make the province accessible and barrier-free by 2030,” he said. 

WATCH: Justice Minister Mark Furey speaks at the Access by Design 2030 launch in Sept. 2018 But according to the executive director of the Accessibility Directorate, the division in the Department of Justice tasked with implementing the act, that’s no longer the case. 

3 years behind timeline”Nova Scotia will be a more accessible and equitable province by 2030, but we will not be completely barrier-free,” said Dawn Stegen, the directorate’s executive director, in an interview with CBC News on May 15. 

“We are an old province that will require a consideration of retrofits in the years to come, specifically for the built environment. But there’s a lot that can be done, and there’s been great progress that has been made in accessibility.”

WATCH | Dawn Stegen speaks to CBC reporter Shaina Luck about the progress toward Nova Scotia’s goal of being “accessible by 2030” 

Dawn Stegen speaks about the progress of Nova Scotia’s goal to be accessible by 2030Dawn Stegen, executive director of the Accessibility Directorate, says Nova Scotia will be a more accessible and equitable province by 2030, but it will not be completely barrier-free.

READ: Transcript of Dawn Stegen in conversation with Shaina Luck (screen reader capable)

Stegen said the goal of an accessible Nova Scotia is tied to the six standards and the enforcement component, which she called the “key building blocks” of the province’s obligations under the act.

“Our understanding of that obligation is that all six standards will be enacted with compliance and enforcement wrapped around them by 2030,” she said. 

The first two standards were supposed to be enacted in 2021, with the rest to follow in 2023 to 2026. 

The province now says the built environment standard will be enacted in 2024, with the other standards to follow between 2025 and 2029, which puts it roughly three years behind its original schedule. 

Stegen said the delay was due to a multi-step process of collaboration and consultation required under the act, which took longer than the province initially thought. She could not say when in 2024 the built environment standard would be enacted.

She told CBC News the province has accelerated its timeline for developing the remaining five standards by clearly defining the scope of each standard for the committee working on it. 

She added the justice minister has also directed each group to take no more than 18 to 20 months to complete its work, and the work is being supported by five dedicated policy analysts. 

‘A clear sense of where we are headed’Last year, a St. Francis Xavier professor completed an independent review of the act’s progress. 

Katie Aubrecht is the Canada Research Chair in Health Equity and Social Justice, and her report made 48 recommendations to improve the implementation of the act. 

She noted the delay in enacting standards, and said fulfilling the province’s obligations will require “renewed government commitment and informed community action.” 

A group of people wait to testify at Nova Scotia’s law amendments committee during the process of drafting the bill that became the Accessibility Act. (Jean Laroche/CBC)Her report also told the government to provide clarity about what will be achieved by 2030, so all Nova Scotians have a “clear sense of where we are headed and what we are working towards.” 

According to Aubrecht, this communication is essential. 

“Shared understanding of what an accessible province by 2030 means will be crucial to maintaining trust and momentum,” she wrote in her review.  

An accessible Ontario by 2025? Here’s where the province stands on its goal But trust has already been damaged with many people with disabilities, according to Levack. 

“You speak to anybody with a disability  — anybody I’ve spoken to — and say, ‘Do you trust the government?’ They go, ‘No, they don’t care about me. They’re never gonna care about us, Vicky,'” she said. 

“And to a large extent, I think they’re right.”

‘The commitment has not been broken’CBC News asked Stegen for clarification on whether the province had changed its goal, but she said it has not. 

“I really think it is about interpretation,” she said, adding the province has a good relationship with many of those who wrote the act in 2017.

Katie Aubrecht is a professor in the department of sociology at St. Francis Xavier University and a Canada Research Chair in Health Equity and Social Justice. (Submitted by Research Nova Scotia.)

“There is an understanding that an accessible Nova Scotia is an aspirational goal that was about having these key building blocks in place by 2030.”

Stegen said she can understand frustration and concern from anyone whose trust in the 2030 goal has been damaged. She urged people who are feeling this way to talk to the Accessibility Directorate about their concerns, and to get involved in the work of the standard development committees. 

“The commitment has not been broken,” Stegen said, adding the province will continue to work toward the goal of being completely accessible long after 2030 has come and gone. 

“We are making good progress and we will continue to commit to accessibility along with equity and diversity to that milestone of 2030, where all six standards are enacted — and beyond.” 

Dawn Stegen told CBC News in an interview the province will have six standards and enforcement in place by 2030, but it will not be barrier-free. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)Levack still believes Nova Scotia can become a truly inclusive and accessible province someday, but she feels it’s important not to characterize the 2030 goal as “aspirational.”

WATCH | Disability rights activist Victoria Levack says the province’s accessibility goals shouldn’t be ‘aspirational’ 

Province’s goal to be accessible by 2030 shouldn’t be ‘aspirational,’ says activistNova Scotia now says it will not be able to meet its goal of becoming accessible by 2030, but it will have standards and enforcement in place. Disability rights activist Victoria Levack says it feels like the province has moved the goalposts.

“I’ve heard that more than once: ‘It’s just an aspirational goal.’ No, you’re just saying that because you can’t meet it and you know that now,” she said. 

“Well, I have a lot of aspirations that are not goals. If you want to make concrete goals, put your money where your mouth is.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *