By Stephanie Cadieux and Michelle Stilwell
A new year is a time to look back at where you’ve been and look ahead to where you’re going. The new year provided just that for accessibility in British Columbia, with B.C.’s Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction starting 2019 with an international award from the Zero Project (www.zeroproject.org) for British Columbia’s ten-year accessibility action plan. In 2014, our former BC Liberal government launched the Accessibility 2024 strategy, with the goal of making British Columbia the country’s most progressive province for people with disabilities by 2024. We’d like to thank ministry staff for their continued work to implement this strategy, and acknowledge the current government for carrying out the remainder of this ten-year plan. Congratulations on this recognition.
The ten-year program our government laid out in Accessibility 2024 implemented a number of key actions including an annualized earnings exemption, the Registered Disability Savings Plan Advisory Group, asset exemptions, and the Presidents Group, made up of business leaders to promote employment of people with disabilities and greater consumer access. Initiatives like these help provide financial relief and security for British Columbians with disabilities.
Despite the progress we’ve made as a province, there is of course more work to do. The top three next steps the BC government must pursue are comprehensive disability legislation, regulations or legislation to improve housing access, and targeted supports to ensure people with disabilities can work.
The federal government is currently working on the Accessible Canada Act. It’s poised to have a significant impact on access and inclusion in our country, but it will also highlight the need for similar and complementary provincial legislation. With almost 15 per cent of the provincial population reporting a disability that limits their daily activities, this is an issue we cannot ignore.
Finding accessible housing remains a significant barrier for British Columbians with disabilities. To help combat this problem, our caucus introduced the Building (New Housing Access) Amendment Act in the Legislature last spring, which would have required all new multi-unit housing to be built with accessibility considerations in mind. Whether we’re talking about a senior with increasingly impaired mobility or a young person looking to move for work, ensuring adequate accessible housing is crucial for an inclusive society. Unfortunately, the NDP government never called this bill for debate, and no progress has been made on the issue.
People with disabilities want to work but they are dramatically overrepresented among unemployed and underemployed British Columbians. Despite the fact that there are many talented, educated people with disabilities eager to contribute to our economy and communities, connecting those individuals to appropriate employment remains a challenge. It’s high time we try something different. Disability-related transportation limitations, the need for an interpreter or personal aide, adaptive equipment, and hiring biases all contribute to the underemployment of people with disabilities. It’s time to acknowledge these barriers, and level the playing field by implementing a program of supports to enable people with disabilities to get or stay in meaningful jobs.
With an aging population, a growing tourism sector, and nearly one million expected job openings in B.C. by 2025, we simply can’t afford not to embrace these opportunities.