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June 4, 2015

Accessibility Legislation

Yesterday the report to the Minister on accessibility legislation was presented to the public.  Given the number of wheelchairs and white canes, along with American Sign Language translation and speech-to-text facility, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was of interest only to disabled people.

But this is about Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotians face an avalanche of bad news - a shrinking population, a huge debt, rural decline, changes in a resource-based economy, income stagnation - the list goes on.  Nova Scotians are rightly skeptical of policies that seem strangely out of tune with their concerns.  Tuition hikes, higher energy costs, expensive experiments with ferries and convention centers, overcrowded hospitals - another endless list.

Minister Bernard had the best line of the day.  In reply to yet another obtuse question from the press about cost, she said "Of course we worry about the cost of doing this, but we worry more about the cost of not doing it."

That, she explained, is the peril of policies that make it difficult for substantial numbers of Nova Scotians to work, participate in their community, spend money - to lead fulfilling lives.

The second best line went to Speaker Kevin Murphy, wheelchair user, who made the point that his family of four does not shop where he can't shop, go to a hotel without accessible facilities, or go to the restaurant upstairs.  Minister Bernard reminded the audience that the 31 member Liberal caucus does not assemble anywhere Kevin cannot go.

Five Fishermen take note.

22 panel members worked hard to write a visionary document.  It may have started out to be a "Nova Scotians with Disabilities Act", but it became a great deal more.  It's about getting old, being a parent with a stroller, being a little hard of hearing or needing some extra time.

Nova Scotians want a vibrant economy.  How does it further that goal by having buses that smart workers can't use to get to work?

Nova Scotians are so proud of their community.  How can we have a community where people can't use the sidewalks?

If you were paying attention, you heard the words "progressive realization".  This means that the legislation will allow a certain flexibility in meeting goals.  No one wants to upset the conduct of business.  The corner store should not fear that the cost of a ramp will put them out of business.  On the other hand, people should not anticipate that the corner store will remain forever inaccessible.  One way or another, the rights of citizens to a barrier-free province will be achieved.  Panel members were careful to distinguish between "exemptions", which last forever, and "exceptions" which can be granted temporarily.

And just before the coffee and snacks, you heard the words "incentives and penalties".  Panel members urged generous incentives and significant penalties.  The business community will embrace the incentives and may reject the penalties, but the legislation will remind them that they operate for public benefit as well as private gain.

If Hydrostone businessses wants to use publicly provided water, sewer, police and sidewalks, they'll have to live by the rules.

So it was a good day for Nova Scotia.  For once, it seems embarked on a world-class, disruptive endeavor that will be far in advance of other jurisdictions.  The report seems to meet the 200 word requirement outlined earlier.

We'll be watching.

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