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December 21, 2015

A new agenda

On October 15, 2008 I wrote an agenda for access in HRM.  Although there are some successes, much remains to be accomplished.  It's become clear that physical access is only part of the problem.  Uneven government services have a disproportionate and cascading effect on people with disabilities.  Government is not responsible for the diversity of human potential, but must be accountable for a fair allocation of resources.
In a classic feedback loop, lack of appropriate housing, parochial regulation of infrastructure,  little workplace diversity and inflexible transportation act together to limit opportunity.  There are perverse incentives, like having to refuse work in order to keep Pharmacare benefits.  There are unintended consequences, like narrowing opportunity by restricting training. 
This downward spiral isn't unique to people with disabilities.  People in rural Nova Scotia have limited transportation choices, single parents have unmet daycare requirements, people of color still face prejudice in many forms.  But what is unique is government complicity in erecting barriers and the lack of effort to remove them.  Poor infrastructure standards limit mobility.  Bad by-laws make access difficult.  Transportation alternatives are inadequate.  Pharmacy needs make independence difficult to achieve.
This is a waste of the human capital so eagerly sought in Nova Scotia.  To make our system run better, we need to identify, quantify, and change wasteful practices.  There are seven municipal and provincial programs that should be carefully evaluated, with access to jobs as the first priority:

1. Access-a-Bus

Gerry Post has been very thorough and creative in his review of this "service".  He has identified substantial savings and improvements.  Yet we continue to operate this expensive and ineffective program.  Saving a couple of million dollars and improving service doesn't require further deliberation.

2. HRM By-Laws

The encroachment by-law discourages owners from retrofitting entrances for accessibility.  That needs to change, so accessibility takes priority.  Similarly, the Heritage Property By-Law must be reworked so people with disabilities can enjoy their history.  Each By-Law needs to be reviewed to remove barriers to work, commerce, culture, and leisure.

3. HRM Red-Book Standards

Paul Vienneau and Gerry Post  are urging HRM to amend its Red Book standards by adopting existing accessibility standards from other jurisdictions.  Halifax is not unique, and good standards for urban infrastructure are available worldwide.  We should cherry-pick the best, rather than designing our own.

At the same time, process and service standards must be articulated.  Snow removal and temporary construction need special attention.

4. Accessible Nova Scotia

The forthcoming Accessibility Legislation needs to undergo public scrutiny.  It has the potential to be the best in Canada - we need to keep our eyes on the prize
5. Roadmap
This is year two of Community Service's implementation of its plan to transform services to people with disabilities.  Recently, that process was reviewed and given a failing grade by the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living.  We need to know more about the delays.  DCS should be much more transparent about wait times, number of clients and expenses.

6. Sheltered Workshops

All across Canada, abuses of 'training' programs have come to light.  In Nova Scotia, there are many such programs operating with exceptions to minimum wage standards.  We need to be assured that there are written standards for length of training and determination of eligibility.  Lack of transparency raises questions of conflicting incentives.  We need to be sure people are not exploited.

7. Workplace Diversity

The province has a workforce diversity policy that is interesting.  It hasn't gone so far as to do anything (2.7% of 11,407 public service employees are people with disabilities vs. 11.5% of the workforce in Nova Scotia) but at least it's counting.  HRM, with about 4,000 employees, is only beginning the process of counting.  This is probably the most important item on the list
There are a thousand other concerns, large and small.  Portable ramps, government sponsored events, outdoor patios.  If we take care of the big ones, these may follow on their own.
Gus Reed

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