The B.C. Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation has used the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to launch a consultation process through which they will gather public input for a disability white paper to be published in June 2014.
Beginning today (December 3), the ministry is inviting the public to participate in conversations on a website, host their own discussion group and submit it to government, and attend one of several in-person community consultations scheduled to start on January 20.
“This is something that affects almost every British Columbian at some point in their lives,” said Don McRae, minister of social development and social innovation, in a news release. “We all have a stake and a role to play – family, friends, communities, employers, non-profits, and governments. This consultation gives us the opportunity to work together toward becoming the most progressive place for people with disabilities to live in Canada."
For organizations who deal with people with disabilities in the province, the opportunity to discuss methods of reducing barriers is overdue. Heather Lamb, who works on the information line for Spinal Cord Injury B.C., sees accessibility and affordability as an overarching issue.
"The highest number of calls have been about accommodation, specifically accessible and/or affordable housing," Lamb told the Straight by phone.
While callers are directed to resources such as B.C. Housing or the organization's website, she has had to deal with the lack of choice. "What we've been noticing is that people are looking for many, many months, if not years for appropriate housing because there simply isn't a lot out there."
Lamb said she is hopeful for the future with the recent adoption in Vancouver of a new building bylaw that makes accessibility part of original construction design.
"Ideally, it would be nice to see that spread to other jurisdictions because over time that is going to make a difference," Lamb said.
Fernando Coelho, CEO of posAbilities, told the Straight, "Affordability is a problem for anyone in Vancouver, not only for people with disabilities, but we have a disproportionate share of that problem."
During a phone interview, Coelho noted the situation is increased in the disability community with the double challenge of living on a fixed income and employment barriers. In terms of accessibility, he said, the organization is dealing with an aging client population.
"We have lots of homes that are Vancouver specials and those are not accessible in any way, shape, or form," Coelho said.
People are unable to age in place, according to Coelho. "The choices are very limited, compounded by the fact that if there is choice it's a very expensive choice."
Coelho would like the province to look at its housing mandate and how it can work with community, private and public, to meet the needs of a changing society.
"It's an aging society," Coelho said. "It's a society where people with disabilities are full participants in their community, so how does their mandate capture all of those needs in the 21st century?"
Jill Weiss, chair of City of Vancouver's persons with disabilities advisory committee, and an advocate for Vancouver's new building bylaw, told the Straight she would ask the province to step up in two areas. The first is, she said by phone, a no-institutions policy for people with disabilities, together with a strong home-support program to provide assistance for people with disabilities so that they can live effectively in the community.
"One of the things that the Convention [on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] says is that people with disabilities have the right to live in the community with the same range of choices as everyone else. In other words, they can not be confined to an institution," Weiss explained, adding that the convention states that governments also have the "responsibility to provide appropriate assistance, including home support, so that they're actually able to live in the community."
The second area would be in general access. "They need a visitable housing bylaw," Weiss said. "This would mean that every dwellng would have wider doors and halls, a main-floor washroom that is accessible with a wheelchair, and a no-step entrance to at least one entrance. These changes would make remove all barriers to accessibility."
The public will have the opportunity to participate in the consultation process until May 2014. The results of that input will be published in the disability white paper sometime in June 2014. A provincial summit will follow on a date yet to be determined.
Along with the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation's consultation process, the public can participate in a housing survey initiated by Spinal Cord Injury B.C.