Residents from across the Okanagan attended a public forum Wednesday to give their input and feedback on new accessibility legislation currently in the works for B.C.
Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson hosted the in-person session on Nov. 13 at the Ooknakane Friendship Centre in Penticton for people with disabilities, their friends and families, accessibility advocates and self-advocates and more. The aim was to give them a chance to shape future legislation to make B.C. more accessible and inclusive.
“People with disabilities have been clear,” Simpson said. “They want to be part of the conversation about their future. We’ve focused very much on bringing people with disabilities into these sessions and having them here in other communities, talking to them through the survey and organizations and ensuring that those voices are the foundation of the work we are doing with the legislation.”
Almost one million British Columbians over the age of 15 live with some form of disability and the government wants to give them a say in the legislation, he added.
“I believe it will be richer and better legislation if the people who live this experience every day have a say. They must be included because, in the past, they have not been.”
According to the non-profit Inclusion BC, British Columbia is the largest province in Canada without accessibility legislation to help identify, remove and prevent barriers experienced by persons with disabilities, the website reads.
Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Quebec and the federal government all have accessibility legislation.
The forum covered five topics: service delivery, employment, built environment, transportation and information and communication — the areas covered in the province’s framework proposed for the legislation.
Osoyoos resident Mike Stiles said he has been in a wheelchair for almost 35 years and is concerned physical accessibility, such as wheelchair accessible parking and level entrance into buildings and facilities, is getting worse. He said there needs to be better standards and the provincial government can help establish them.
”Now everybody is trying to do their own version of accessibility. There’s no regulation. It’s piecemeal and nobody knows what to expect,” he said. “There’s a gamut of issues where there needs to be government involvement and a baseline for what people can expect when it comes to accessibility.”
Spring Hawse from Kelowna said she attended because the opportunity to give feedback is important. She pointed to transportation as an obstacle in the Okanagan, especially for those traveling for medical purposes.
The public is invited to give feedback and input until Nov. 29 at 4 p.m. To learn more about the proposed legislation, visit: engage.gov.bc.ca/accessibility.