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March 3, 2017

Law Amendments

I've been watching the Law Amendments hearings on Bill 59. Regardless of what is presented, the process is impressive. CART, ASL, captioning and streaming video are wonderful, leveling innovations. Like accessible constituency offices, we can be proud that Nova Scotia understands and delivers democracy the way it is meant to be.

It has been such a pleasure and education to see people with a range of individual differences participating in their government. We seldom have an opportunity to engage with those unlike ourselves, and learning of other perspectives is often humbling and thought-provoking. Where else have we met a blind employment counselor, the student leader with Down Syndrome, the amazing Mayor of Spring Garden, the Law Professor, or the former adviser to King Hussein?

Clearly the province has set a new standard. Now that streaming video of legislative proceedings, remote presentations and all the rest have come to pass, it will be hard to turn back the clock. A deaf person in Yarmouth can have the same presence and information as a lobbyist in Halifax. The resemblance to a town meeting was striking.

In terms of content, the presenters ranged from ridiculously reactionary businesspeople to sublime examples of individual achievement.

We learned that in Nova Scotia some businessmen (and they were all men) face their own self-imposed barriers. They can be blind to opportunity, deaf to change, handicapped by outdated thinking and paralyzed by fear of innovation. They can be their own worst enemies. Others are understandably cautious. Still others welcome the change and the promise of new customers and employees. Increasingly, it seems up to us to lead the way to a prosperous future for Nova Scotia. Conventional thinking is so ............... conventional.

Still, there is confusion about the scope and purpose of the Act. Some think it should include specific programs, others, like me, insist it's all about equality. Worrying about how to pay for Braille books or accessible transportation is certainly a concern, but the answer lies in being scrupulously fair. If we provide new knees routinely, we should make the connection that knees and wheelchairs accomplish the same thing. We should have a mobility program, not just a joint-replacement program.

The MLAs seemed attentive, not very partisan, a little unfamiliar with the territory. It's refreshing to watch legislators interacting with actual voters, rather than lobbyists, who don't vote.

It's become clear to me that it's very difficult for the average person to understand even the simplest of barriers, let alone the complex interplay of hurdles so often encountered. There is a saying "Nothing about us without us" which invokes the further thought that this endeavor is simply too unique to be trusted to novices. "You can't do it without us" is more accurate.

Last time, legislative drafters retreated for many months and produced just an awful bill. This time they should consult experts.

And pronto!

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