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November 28, 2012

Two Nova Scotias

The Tale

  • In this Nova Scotia, it is the best of times because Anne, recent Computer Science graduate of Acadia, has a job at the shipyard, an MSI card and a health benefit to pay her pharmacy needs.
  • In the other Nova Scotia, it is the worst of times because Brian, recent Computer Science graduate of Acadia, is what we call 'hard to employ'.  He needs assistance to live by himself, requires expensive medications, needs a barrier-free apartment.  At work, he would need some special technology and an accessible washroom.  Navigating the bureaucracy to obtain services, although excellent experience in itself, is frustrating and time-consuming.  Taxpayers have invested more than $50,000 in Brian's university education, yet getting a job is proving difficult.
  • In this Nova Scotia, it is the best of times because Anne hops on the bus for a 20 minute ride to work.  If she works late, she takes the next bus.
  • In the other Nova Scotia, it is the worst of times because Brian waits 20 minutes for the Access-a Bus to ride 40 more minutes downtown for a job interview.  The potential employer is looking for  people who can work long hours on an innovative project.  If Brian were to get the job, if he works late he will be charged for the Access-a-Bus anyway and may not get home at all.  Brian could get on an accessible low floor bus, but the nearby bus route is not equipped with them. He could take a taxi, but none are accessible.
  • In this Nova Scotia, it is the best of times because Anne volunteers for her MLA, helping in the busy constituency office.
  • In the other Nova Scotia, it is the worst of times because Brian, who took courses in Political Science at Acadia, can't volunteer at his MLA's constituency office which doesn't meet basic access requirements.  He can't get in, there is no washroom he can use.  The MLA rents the inaccessible space for $700 a month at taxpayer expense.
  • In this Nova Scotia, it is the best of times because Anne stops into the YMCA employment center to check out better jobs.
  • In the other Nova Scotia, it is the worst of times because Brian stopped at the Y with his service dog but was ordered to leave.

Government neglect

The people responsible for this unequal state of affairs are:
  • the Minister of Community Services
  • the Minister of Health and Fitness
  • the Minister of Advanced Education and Job Training
  • the Minister of Government Services
  • the Minister of Labour
  • the Minister of Municipal Affairs
  • the member of the Executive Council who is charged with the administration of the Housing Act
They make up the Coordinating Council of the Disabled Persons Commission. This group of 7 government ministers is charged "to facilitate the planning and development of services and programs for disabled persons" according to the Disabled Persons Commission Act.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained 10 years of minutes of the meetings of this body (see below).  In the 3,956 days since January 1 2002, the Coordinating Council of the Disabled Persons Commission has met 6 times, or once every 659 days. The Minister of Health missed 2 of the 6 meetings. One set of minutes has been lost, so we don't know if that minister missed another. The Minister of Health has been busy facilitating the planning and development of services and programs for disabled persons once every nine hundred eighty nine days.  The member of the Executive Council who is charged with the administration of the Housing Act has never attended at all.

Here's the summary:


In their neglect, the Ministers have been aided and abetted by the staff of the Disabled Persons Commission, a $406,000 arm of the Department of Community Services, with a staff of 4, and 13 commissioners chosen from the community and government. Currently commisioners number 8 and 5 respectively

I have already documented the ineffectiveness of the Disabled Persons Commission, with their 1 annual report in 10 years and a website that is so out-of-date it urges us to celebrate the International Day of Persons With Disabilities in 2008.  The website does not meet any accessibility standard.

Let me be clear; For Nova Scotians with disabilities, in the past ten years time has stood still  Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent, yet the most intractable problems of people with disabilities - chronic unemployment, low income, inadequate housing and isolation are perpetuated.

There is no way for a member of the public to determine if the Disabled Persons Commission helps anyone.  It is simply invisible.  This in itself is a tremendous injury to misunderstood and undervalued citizens who are subject to much discrimination.

Supporting Data

Under the Freedom of Information Act, Parker Donham and I asked for the minutes of the meetings of the Coordinating Council of Ministers and supporting documents on August 19, 2012. In the 92 days since we made our request, after 2 extensions, 295 pages of information have been assembled. 33 pages were duplicates and 8 were deemed to be too sensitive to include, making 254 pages. The pages are summarized thus:

 

In ten years the Ministers have been exposed to
  • 3 pages of statistics
  • 2 pages on the United Nations Treaty
  • a 6 page Strategy
  • an 8 page Framework

The Framework

Most of the briefing documents regurgitate information easily found on the web.  The most revealing of the policy documents is the Framework, which was specifically named as part of our Freedom of Information Request.

Framework is the fashionable word for Plan.  
The purpose of the strategy presented in this proposal is to build on consensus between government, the disability community, the private sector and society as a whole to take action to recognise the right of persons with disability to the benefits and responsibilities of full citizenship. 
That's a start, although the rights of citizenship are absolute and not subject to consensus.  What's most alarming about this document is that it is dated October 2006 and foresees completion by October 2007. Evidently the plan was floated to the Coordinating Council of Ministers at the November meeting in 2006, but no action was taken.  Citizens don't need lectures on responsibility from government officials who can't be bothered to show up.

But the Framework is premised on the idea that the place of persons with disabilities in Canada is up for negotiation.  Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms it isn't, and that's why the place to begin is with a Nova Scotians with Disabilities Act, not an exercise in consensus building.

A key goal articulated in the Framework is:
Empowering the disability community by increasing their means of affecting policy making in the province, and by using their valuable knowledge and ideas to push change forward.
Here's a much better plan than the utterly failed experiment currently in place.  It's hard to imagine a less effective arrangement than the Coordinating Council of Ministers.  What grade would your child earn if they only went to school once every two years?

People with disabilities should take the government's offer of self-determination.  The budget and staff of the Disabled Persons Commission should be transferred to the Nova Scotia Disability Strategy Partnership, a coalition of 21 community groups committed to a fair deal and a bright future for people with disabilities.  The budget should be tripled, accessible office space provided, and the transfer should happen on January 1.  There is plenty of precedent - the province currently grants $666,000 to "Sector Councils" to "help address skills development and HR issues". This program is administered by the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education.  That ministry is long overdue to help people with disabilities.

A better idea

Here is a four part plan:
  1. The Disability Strategy Partnership develops guidelines for provincial government departments to address the situation of people with disabilities in regard to programs, services and activities.  Guidelines are in place by June, 2013.  Self assessment must be complete by December, 2013. 
  2. The Disabled Persons Commission, now reporting to the Disability Strategy Partnership, will have a modern and accessible website in 90 days and will continue to refine and improve it as a resource to 
    1. Persons with disabilities
    2. Business
    3. The general public
    4. Government
  3. The government files legislation in 2013 titled "The Nova Scotians with Disabilities Act" with these explicit purposes:
    1. to provide a clear and comprehensive foundation for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities; 
    2. to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities; 
    3. to ensure that the Provincial government plays a central role in enforcing the standards established by the act on behalf of individuals with disabilities; and 
    4. to invoke the sweep of legislative authority, including the power to regulate business, in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced day to day by people with disabilities. 
  4. To be eligible for reimbursement, all MLA Constituency Offices (see article) must meet the following standards within 60 days:
    1. Wheelchair Accessible
    2. TTY services
    3. Accessible Washrooms
    4. Accessible parking
    5. Power doors
The Disabled Persons Commission has been in existence since 1989.  It's time to abandon a bad idea and actually do something useful.

Gus Reed

1 comment:

Debbie MacKenzie (former public health nurse with an eye-opening disability experience) said...

Wow! Very nicely done. Your "better idea" looks like an excellent starting point for eliminating the rampant systematic discrimination against people with disabilities in Nova Scotia. I will be watching and rooting for this. For an added perspective, I think its time to explore the proper role of the health professions in actively advocating for social justice since it is one of the "social determinants of health" which the health professions are tasked with improving overall. Well done with your reporting on the "work" done by the "Disabled Persons Commission" to date...!