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March 17, 2018

Accessibility Advisory Board - my priority

Friday I had the great privilege of attending (through the miracle of the internet) the inaugural meeting of the province's Accessibility Advisory Board.  It's an impressive and talented group; 6 women, 6 men, 7 with disabilities as required by the Act.

The diversity of interests, experience and priorities is also impressive - accomplished in business, academia, advocacy and government, among other areas.  Special concerns include language, poverty, technology and housing.  All share a common interest in human rights and the perspective it brings.

We had a video greeting from Minister Mark Furey.  As a new board, we spent time on housekeeping - responsibility, privacy, transparency - and other details of governance.

We were briefed on the creative and energetic work of the tireless Gerry Post and the small staff of the Directorate.  They've formed a partnership of the Directorate, the Rick Hansen Foundation and the Community Colleges.  The Directorate has conducted dozens of community meetings and has another partnership with the the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities.  It is engaged with postsecondary educational institutions.  Wow!

We have a great deal of work to accomplish by September, when a plan is to be sent to the Minister.  We will depend on the excellent staff.

When we were given the opportunity to go around the table to identify priorities, I wanted to be clear that the perilous and inexcusable situation of people with intellectual disabilities in sheltered workshops funded by the Department of Community Services is a different level of problem.  It's a crisis.  I want it to be on the record.  It can be fixed by a simple policy change.

I have written frequently about the associated workshops, called DirectioNS.  We learn from a series done by public radio in the US that people with intellectual disabilities are seven times more likely to be victims of sexual assault.  There are excellent personal safety programs.  There are examples of good policies.  Community Services requires none of these.

The Province can implement effective and uniform protections for people with intellectual disabilities.  The policy needs:

1. a DCS mandated code of conduct for sheltered workshops covering all types of exploitation.
2. police background checks all around.
3. sex education classes for participants.
4. A fair wage for participants - so work is not just rewarded by charity.
5. Consequences
The Province doesn't need to wait for an imposed standard.  It can even postpone the fair wage issue, which seems to be an insurmountable problem.  But please, please do your duty and protect the vulnerable!

Until something is done, it will continue to be my priority.

Gus Reed

February 23, 2018

Fun with Assistive Technology


All is not lost down here in the land of Trump, where I'm avoiding Nova Scotia weather. The local Muscular Dystrophy Association, to which I belong, invited folks to tour a state run Assistive Technology Center. I learned about this program a couple of years ago and have been looking for an opportunity to learn more.  The website is very informative.

The North Carolina Assistive Technology Program (NCATP) is a state and federally funded program that provides assistive technology services statewide to people of all ages and abilities. NCATP leads North Carolina's efforts to carry out the federal Assistive Technology Act of 2004 by providing device demonstration, short-term device loans, and reutilization of assistive technology. Here are the categories of devices and services:

  • Aids for Daily Living
  • Alternative and Augmentative Communication 
  • Vehicle Modifications 
  • Environmental Control 
  • Sensory Aids 
    • Vision
    • Hearing
  • Tablet Access
  • Computer Access
  • Learning, Cognition, and Development 
  • Seating and Mobility 
At 17 facilities, in a large and crowded room, there are hundreds of devices, complex and simple, familiar and strange - all useful and ready to try.  

My favorite is a Gyro Cup, which I could really use.  Even though it looks like me, it's not.  

Keyboards, telephones, software (a big presence), tables, pointing devices, communication schemes, toys - even a robot.

The robot - BEAM - is a mobile telepresence and you can sign up for a live demonstration.  Lynne Deese, who organizes the tours is terrific!

Just in passing, she mentioned "Rehabilitation Engineering" as if everyone should know about it.  These are people who make their living providing assistive technology and helping figure ways to pay for it.  I never heard of it.  There is a professional organization.  I think Nova Scotia has one member.  Let's get more!

Coincidentally, in the same realm, the university of Manitoba is looking to assemble a Nova Scotia focus group to examine strategies and solutions for people who use mobility devices to improve their ability to get into their community in the winter.  Here is their recruiting poster and contact info:

February 21, 2018

Just another token effort?

Halifax wants to know, so we should tell them.  I first published this in 2008:

Fair Government
  • People with disabilities must be equitably represented at all levels in the workforce (stop using privacy as a cover-up!)
  • All public meetings must be held in accessible locations, with appropriate amenities (signers, accessible washrooms) served by scheduled and accessible public transportation.
  • There will be continuing emphasis on HRM website accessibility
  • There will be an accessibility section in the Annual Report, detailing accomplishments
  • HRM sponsored or funded events like sports competitions will be accessible to everyone
  • A higher profile will be given to the HRM Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities
  • Every department will have a person responsible for accessibility who signs off on projects

Barrier Free Infrastructure 

  • The HRM Municipal Service System Guidelines (Redbook) will be continually monitored to include modern standards of accessible design for infrastructure
  • Heritage properties which are public accommodations will have a plan for accessibility
  • HRM will develop plans to eliminate barriers in currently inaccessible public facilities and budget accordingly
  • No more discrimination by building code exemptions

Effective Municipal Services

  • A fully accessible public transportation system, including taxis, must be one of HRM's highest priorities
  • Public Safety and services must pay special attention to the needs of people with disabilities – for example:
    • Include disability considerations in snow removal standards (curb cut clearing, bus platforms, tactile clues)
    • zero tolerance for crimes against disabled people
    • Emergency measures should address planning and protection for disabled people.