On November 2, 2016, the Nova Scotia government proposed accessibility legislation to promote equality of opportunity and increase the inclusion and participation of Nova Scotians who have disabilities or functional limitations in all areas of everyday life by promoting and encouraging the prevention, reduction and removal of barriers.
Moreover, the government intends to help make Nova Scotia a more accessible and inclusive place to live and work.
Bill No. 59, An Act Respecting Accessibility in Nova Scotia gives the government the ability to oversee the development and implementation of accessibility standards necessary to attain the purpose of the new Accessibility Act.
The focus of the proposed Nova Scotia accessibility legislation will be on achieving accessibility for all by developing standards under the following areas (which was discussed during consultation on proposed legislation; these are not found in the legislation):
- Accessible information and communication
- Client services
- Public transportation
- The built environment
- Education and training
- Health services
The proposed Nova Scotia accessibility legislation decides broadly on what must be included in the standards, what organization it can apply to and who must be consulted on the standards, among other things. Accompanying regulations will be more specific on requirements in each standard and who it applies to. It also decides the timeline for consultation on a standard and approval process.
The Bill however, does specify that every public sector body must prepare and make publicly available an accessibility plan to report on measures the public sector body has taken and intends to take to identify, reduce, remove and prevent barriers.
The Bill also allows the government to create an Accessibility Directorate to support the implementation, administration and enforcement of the Accessibility Act and the regulations, including standards.
An Accessibility Advisory Board consisting of 12 members must also be created to consult and advise on the standards to be implemented.
The Bill also provides a framework for compliance and enforcement of the accessibility law and its standards. Details will be found in Regulations. There will be provisions respecting record-keeping and reporting requirements for individuals and organizations that are subject to an accessibility standard.
If the Bill is enacted, it will come into force on proclamation at a later date than royal assent.
The Bill is similar with existing Accessibility legislation found in Ontario and Manitoba.
Criticism and update on the progression of Bill 59
Since the Bill was tabled, it has received a significant amount of criticism from persons with disabilities and disability advocates. They claim the Bill is inadequate and weak and does not emphasize enough that this is a fundamental right for individuals with a disability and not a privilege. For example, CBC News Nova Scotia reported on November 7, 2016, that,
“Lois Miller, the retired executive director of Independent Living Nova Scotia, a group dedicated to assisting people with disabilities, took particular issue with the government’s focus on advocating for change that would not be onerous to businesses or create more red tape.”
“She likened it to not inconveniencing businesses with another fundamental right — women’s right to receive equal pay for work of equal value.”
In light of the criticism, the government is thinking of taking a breather on the passing of the Bill this year. Right now, the Bill is in front of the law amendments committee, which will sit over the next couple of months to hear from anyone who has something to say about the legislation.