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Make yourself heard on Accessibility Legislation

A group of around 30 advocates for people with disabilities have released a set of principles to guide the redrafting of Bill 59.  They represent a wide range of sensory and physical disabilities.  The four principles are summarized here:

Summary Principles to Redraft Bill 59
The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act
Prepared by Bill 59 Community Alliance

  1. Be clear on the purpose
    1. To fulfill government’s promise of equality for all Nova Scotians and to end discrimination against people with disabilities
    2. To remove existing barriers and prevent new ones
  2. Make sure it works everywhere
    1. Apply the Act to public and private services, facilities, transportation, and communication
    2. Incorporate a broad and forward looking definition of disability
    3. Accord people with disabilities a central role in creating and implementing the Act
  3. Standards are the key
    1. Create and enforce standards
    2. Standards should adhere to the principles of Universal Design
    3. Include standards for assistive technologies and accessibility services
    4. Discourage arbitrary exemptions
  4. Take practical steps
    1. Embed meaningful deadlines in the Act
    2. Employ incentives to advance the purpose of the Act.
    3. Accept and investigate complaints
    4. Enforce compliance with penalties
    5. Do not subordinate fundamental human rights to cost-benefit analysis
    6. Require government to purchase accessible goods and services
    7. Harmonize with other legislation

The longer version is available here.

This promises to be the best equality legislation in Canada, but it needs your help.  Here are some actions you can take:

  • Join the Bill 59 Facebook Group
  • Like and share this post to Facebook and encourage friends to share.
  • Meet with your MLA to discuss how this legislation affects you
    • Have a face-to-face meeting if possible, or send an email
    • Here are some ideas on how to be effective:
      • Tell a personal story from your experience
      • Focus on
        • Employment
        • Transportation
        • Government Services
      • Question conventional arguments - most resistance comes from bureaucrats
        • Thing take time
        • Things are expensive
        • It's a hardship for business
      • Bring supporting documents
  • contact your local media and send them the Principles 
  • consider presenting to the Law Amendments Committee on February 13 or 14. 
    • There is an opportunity to make presentations at your local Community College on the 14th. You can learn about it here

There will be small grants to cover ASL-English interpreting costs in relation to advocacy work for Bill 59 up to the Law Amendments Committee. The grants go to a maximum of a team of 2 interpreters up to 2 hours.  Mr. Frank O'Sullivan (fosullivan@ns.sympatico.ca), the SDHHNS Executive Director, will be administrating this.  Contact him for details.
We're at a tipping point, and Nova Scotia could be the Canadian leader.  Make a difference!

Please share your experience on the Facebook Group

Yours for the future,

Bill 59 Community Alliance

Undue Hardship

I am not a lawyer, but I have a finely tuned sense of justice. Unforgiving, you might say. 
I have been rankled by the concept of 'undue hardship' which is written into many pieces of accessibility legislation. It strikes me as one of those fictional constructs designed to keep people with disabilities in their place. Like the 'change of use' or 'under 200 square meters' exemptions in the building code, it's a bit of fantasy that springs from some deep desire to repress people who are different. Undue hardship always struck me as a one way street in the sense that it applies only to the employer.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission says this:
Organizations covered by the Code have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship. Some degree of hardship may be expected – it is only if the hardship is “undue” that the accommodation will not need to be provided. In many cases, it will not be difficult to accommodate a person’s disability. Accommodation may simply involve making policies, rules and requirements more flexible. While doing this may involve some administrative inconvenience, inconvenience by itself is not a factor for assessing undue hardship. The Code prescribes only three considerations when assessing whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship: 
  •  cost 
  • outside sources of funding, if any 
  • health and safety requirements, if any.
No other considerations can be properly taken into account under Ontario law. Therefore, factors such as business inconvenience, employee morale and customer and third-party preferences are not valid considerations in assessing whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship. 
Nova Scotia is similar:

All employers must try to accommodate the needs of their employees up to the point of undue hardship. Where this point is depends on several things, including the size of the organization and the role of the employee within the organization. For example, the larger the organization, the greater is the ability to accommodate. Accommodation does not have to be perfect, but it should be reasonable.

Nova Scotia reinforces the one-way-street message by adding:
An employee also has a duty in the accommodation process to provide sufficient medical information to show how his or her medical condition affects his or her ability to do the job. If an employee does not cooperate, the employer may not need to accommodate the employee.

Sheila Wildeman at Dal Law School furnished this eye-popping reference from a Supreme Court of Canada decision called Grismer :
"While in some circumstances excessive cost may justify a refusal to accommodate those with disabilities, one must be wary of putting too low a value on accommodating the disabled. It is all too easy to cite increased cost as a reason for refusing to accord the disabled equal treatment. This Court rejected cost-based arguments in Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 624, at paras. 87-94, a case where the cost of accommodation was shown to be modest. I do not assert that cost is always irrelevant to accommodation. I do assert, however, that impressionistic evidence of increased expense will not generally suffice. Government agencies perform many expensive services for the public that they serve. Moreover, there may be ways to reduce costs.”

It is a two way street!  Undue hardship goes both ways.  The expense of accommodation is measured against the cost of not accommodating instead of just referencing itself.  How did I not know this?  It is a 1999 decision, and I'm sorry to have been so benighted.

In the future, when someone mentions undue hardship I will say "and what about my undue hardship?"

Thank you Sheila!

Evidence for Council

At Tuesday’s meeting,  City Council voted to waive the usual Audit and Finance Committee requirements and authorize spending $1,880,000 to buy 15 discontinued Access-a-Buses from GM Canada.  On page 5 of the staff report, signed by Dave Reage  and Jaques Dube is the following heading:

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT There was no community engagement associated with this report.

The community is engaged, HRM isn't.  Hundreds of Haligonians are poorly served by this expensive and ineffective service. Users have presented a much cheaper alternative, only to be ignored repeatedly.  

  • Access-a-Bus is a separate and unequal service.  
    • With persistent and worsening  problems
  • It discriminates against people with disabilities contrary to the Charter.  
  • It is a textbook example of the near impossibility of effecting change in government.  
  • Taxpayers are poorly served by this arrangement
  • The status quo best serves Metro Transit, not the public.  

Compared to what?

The decision to buy the Access-a-Buses is not simple.  The real questions are about how to maximize benefits and whether we should be driven by Federal grants.  Do we lock ourselves into the wrong choice through a hasty analysis?     

According to Halifax Transit the current size of vehicles is considered too large for the Access-a-Bus service "...with only one or two passengers onboard; this is not an optimal use for scarce resource of a relatively large capacity" (24 March 2016 Staff Report).  Why would we purchase more of such vehicles?

Council has a new passion for evidence-based decision making.  Let’s look at the evidence:

Metro Transit Reasoning:

Allegedly, a fortuitous alignment of the stars made 50% federal cost sharing available for once-in-a-lifetime pricing of the vans.  
  • The cost sharing isn’t exactly a certainty, but is practically a sure thing.
  • The 15 vans became available when another customer backed out.

The Math

15 vans for $1.880m is $125,333 each.  These are the chassis only, so the place where the people sit and the lift are extra.  Let’s suppose GM is giving a 20% discount.  Then the retail price is $2,350,000 and we save half the difference of  $470,000 or $235,000. Shall we commit to a dubious course for $235,000?

The alternative

The Access-a-Bus strategic plan of 2010, makes a sound economic argument for augmenting service with accessible cabs, recommending:

Metro Transit officials enter into discussion with local taxi companies to gauge the level of interest in the provision of supplemental service for Access-a-Bus;

Here’s a table from that 2010 report:
Updated figures are
  • Average 2016  cost per Access-a-Bus trip is $36.95 (already 25% higher than predicted)
  • Average distance per trip is 6.67km
  • Same trip via accessible taxi is $14.51 - a savings of $22.44/ ride
  • In 2009, Access-a-Bus made 115,000 trips
  • Access-a-Bus is oversubscribed, 7 days advance booking required to hopefully get the appointment requested
  • Access-a-Bus demand will grow with aging population - Stats Canada predicts a growth in disabled population from current 20% to over 30% in 2026

More math.

So purchasing 15 discontinued Access-a-Buses saves $235,000.  To save that same amount via the cab supplement, we’d need to shift 10,472 rides from Access-a-Bus to Taxis.  Less than 10% of rides.

The bottom line

15 vans at a 20% discount is a one-time saving of $235,000 for HRM taxpayers.  We can save that same $235,000 by shifting just 10% of Access-a-Bus rides to taxis.
  • Not once, but forever
  • A course of action endorsed in the 2010 plan

Of course the alternative needs a thorough experiment.  We’ll need to review costs, savings, logistics and eligibility.  A properly conceived program ought to aspire to be cost neutral, meaning that incentives, discounts, management and secondary effects should sum to zero.


  • Halifax Transit staff is to develop and execute a partnership with HRM accessible transportation service providers to support Halifax Transit Access-A-Bus service.  The plan will be limited to 10,000 rides and commence in spring, 2017.  Costs and benefits will be calculated and a progress report is to be filed by June, 2017.
  • The purchase of discontinued vans be nullified
  • Institute an affirmative employment policy for Access-a-Bus to hire people with disabilities for proposed positions such as additional schedulers and dispatchers.

Gerry Post
Warren Reed