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March 25, 2017


I had two emails recently, announcing initiatives of OneNS and EngageNS, one inviting me to a webinar on March 27 and the other about a "dashboard" to measure progress. I have trouble remembering which group is which, but I believe OneNS is the descendent of the Ivany Commission and EngageNS is an NGO that has Ramona Lumpkin and Danny Graham on board.

I wrote about the organizations last spring. Of the 32 board members, zero were people with impairments (my new favorite word, as the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities so accurately describes us.)  8 were women.

The Ivany Report, as you may recall, mentions people with disabilities only in the context of 'at risk' groups.  The dashboard of OneNS doesn't seem to have any reference to people with impairments. There could be something on the inactive tab on employment rates.

The upcoming webinar, about the 'Art of Hosting', is coming live from Mahone Bay and is meant introduce "a type of engagement that allows all kinds of people to “step up” and create the change they want to see"

I wrote to EngageNS and heard back right away from Jeff Overmars, who has a new job at Engage NS:

Warren Reed
11:14 AM (1 hour ago)

Dear Ms Randall,

Can you tell me if there will be services for people with disabilities at Monday's Webinar? Things like ASL interpreters, closed captioning or CART services? If there is a live location, is it wheelchair accessible?

Many thanks,

Gus Reed

Jeff Overmars 11:26 AM (40 minutes ago)

Hi Gus,

We met at the 2015 Human Rights Awards. I’m at Engage now and this is our first foray into the webinar format.

Monday’s webinar will only be broadcast online. There’s no in-person attendance.

The recorded webinar will be posted online via YouTube within 24-48 hours and will be captioned. This recording will live on our website permanently and be shared widely via social media.

There had been no requests for adaptive tech/ASL prior to today.

Between now and our Aprill webinar I will look into the integration of CART into a live-stremaining webinar using the Zoom. platform.

If you’d like to discuss this further, I’d welcome a phone call at anytime. You can reach me at 902-719-8534.
I hope all’s well. Are you still south of the boarder?


Warren Reed
12:06 PM (8 minutes ago) to Jeff

Thanks Jeff,

It does seem odd that a organization that is largely government funded (76%, 2015 CRA return) embarks on a program "that allows all kinds of people to “step up” and create the change they want to see" would not include deaf folks as "all kinds of people". 24-48 hours delay takes the thrill out of immediate participation. I've been helping arrange ASL for people and it's cheap. No need to wait for a request - it should be the policy of ENS that all events are completely accessible.

Remember Field of Dreams "If you build it, they will come". And even if they don't, you won't have to explain this kind of oversight to taxpayers.

Let me know if the policy changes.


Finally, I just heard from Jeff:

Hi Gus,

We’ll have ASL for Monday for sure.
Working on CART.
All webinars will have a registration component asking if CART or ASL is required and we will be vigilant to ensure we don’t exclude anyone from participating live. All recorded webinars will be posted to YouTube and captions edited for anyone wishing to view the material following the live events.

Thanks again for your inquiry. If you are available at sometime in the coming weeks in person or remotely via phone or a video chat, I’d like to talk to you about opportunities for further engagement.

Have a nice weekend.


All credit to Jeff, who acted with uncommon speed.  It took a couple of hours.

When people with disabilities participate in a group discussion, the subject often turns to 'awareness'.  The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities makes a big deal of awareness in Article 8.  The Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act promotes awareness.  3 of 4 'Objects' of our own Disabled Persons Commission have to do with 'awareness'.  'Awareness' is a general provision of Bill 59,  the draft Accessibility act in Nova Scotia.

Based on the example of EngageNS, 'awareness' is a synonym for 'huh?'.  Rather than promoting awareness let's promote 'return the money'.  The idea that our government doesn't require beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse to adhere to some diversity standard is just plain irresponsible.

Gerry Post would call this 'low-hanging fruit'.  Government grant recipients have to agree to some rules of equitable treatment.

Gus Reed

What got me started on awareness is this picture of US lawmakers sitting around this week discussing the future of women's healthcare:
Notice anything?

March 10, 2017

At the risk of repeating myself

Watching the presentations on Bill 59 to the Law Amendments Committee is the surest way to get some clarity on the definition of disability. It would be hard to assemble a more thoughtful, articulate, smart and self-aware group anywhere. So why does the word "disability" get bandied about so easily?

Is Barry Abbott, the first presenter, disabled? He had a pioneering career at SMU, retired comfortably and contributed to his community through taxes and service. And he loves his gadgets.

How about Pat Gates, who has a record of consequential volunteering about a mile long, done on a shoestring budget? Her selflessness is an example to us all and puts others to shame.

Will Brewer, who is the very definition of Howard Gardner's Good Work, when excellence meets ethics?

Gerry Post? He works harder and more effectively than legions of bureaucrats. They miss him in the King of Jordan's p(a)lace, but we need him more in Halifax.

Paul Vienneau. Now there's a guy who can hardly fend for himself. Between shoveling, advocacy, music, art, fundraising he is clearly a burden on society.

Steve Estey? Probably the only person you'll ever meet who had a hand in writing a UN treaty.

Claredon Robicheau? The sage of Clare? Who brought rural transportation to Nova Scotia and saved the government millions?

There were people representing a different kind of disability. Their impairments were self-imposed - shortsightedness, indifference, ignorance.

I'm more convinced than ever that as long as the word "disability" appears in Bill 59, it goes wide of the mark. Call it "diversity" or "fairness" or "individual difference", but don't be so condescending as to call these extraordinary citizens "dis" anything.

March 5, 2017

Making Accessibility Pay

Let's think about investment.  Like public education and modern infrastructure, government can make good investments.   This is an opportunity to invest in people.  As Bill Gates said to Warren Buffet "the best investment any of us can ever make is in the lives of others"

No matter how you slice it, Bill 59 is going to cost money.  Capital expenses will be significant, and the solutions proposed in the current Bill - extremely long or nonexistent time horizons and the prospect of wholesale exemptions - don't match the aspirations of the Act.  So let's face the truth and admit that access isn't free.  The good news is that every sign points to increased economic activity, government saving, and increased tax revenue.  Everyone will benefit from investing in access, and we should champion that fact.

Missing from Bill 59 is a the promise to identify and evaluate tax incentives, which are the most likely way to encourage investments of this nature.  The Minister of Finance will need to work hand-in-hand with the Minister of Justice to make access happen.

11 Kinds of incentives
Nova Scotia faces a ton of problems.  Some of them relate to a cavalier waste of human capital.  Too many people with disabilities on government support and too few participating in the economic life of the Province.  That's a great big problem and we have the tools to make it better.

Government must use it's fiscal powers to ensure that people with disabilities share in the promise of Nova Scotia.  I'm attaching a chart showing how to turn a profit by using incentives, just like retailers do every day.

 Here is a little more on four persistent problems that have accessibility as a central theme and how an investment will pay off:

Increasing government supports and declining revenue

The simple answer to this problem is jobs.  For every full-time minimum wage job enjoyed by a person moving from community support, government saves around $20,000 in expense and gains about $7,000 in revenue.  Government can do any number of things to encourage this:

  • Pay half the salary for such people for two years up to $10,000 (government is still $10 grand to the good annually)
  • Continue their Pharmacare or subsidize private supplementary coverage for 2 years.

After two years, government receives the full benefit in new tax revenue.

An aging population needing care

Aging at home is in everyone's interest.  Government can fix this problem almost instantly by giving credits for accessibility improvements, an expansion of current grant programs.  The payback is in fewer nursing facilities, new employment for housing contractors and increased property valuations.  

Vanishing workers

This is a cascading problem.  Uneven access to transportation and suitable housing keeps people isolated.  Limited access to higher education (Dalhousie Law School is less than one half of one percent students with visible disabilities) means inadequate training.  Limited employment opportunities in government (9.9% of the workforce self identifies as having a disability, yet only 3.9% of provincial employees do so - the lowest representation of the five groups the province identifies as important to employment equity).  Loan-burdened recent graduates leave the province for jobs.  There are many opportunities for intervention.

Not just government, but private employers stand to gain by diverting overlooked talent to productive work.  We need to get to work on a whole web of problems:  transportation, housing, higher education, and recruitment.  Quick fixes just don't work.

Cruise Ships and the changing face of tourism

238,217 passengers arrived in Halifax on 136 ships in 2016.  The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that 3% of their cabins be accessible.  This translates to roughly 7,000 passengers and probably an equal number of their companions.  Good tourism practice requires that they not be disappointed.  We're sitting next to millions of aging New Englanders.  Sharing the cost of accessibility through property tax credits will pay in increased traffic, higher HST, higher valuations, and in other, more subtle brand sensitive ways.


The lack of attention to these possible solutions to persistent problems is puzzling. Government needs to do the research, and more importantly commit to using the tools of fiscal policy to make access happen.