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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

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