Minister says new rules coming to improve accessibility for people with disabilities

Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh says an announcement is imminent on strengthening accessibility regulations and reviewing existing legislation.

Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh can expect close scrutiny of her plan

Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh says the province will strengthen accessibility regulations. (CBC )

Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh promises her government will improve accessibility for people with disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Speaking to CBC News, Gambin-Walsh said new regulations related to the province's Buildings Accessibility Act will be adopted.

However, she cautioned that more discussion is needed before some of the regulations are changed.

A formal announcement is coming within the next few days, but the minister says new regulations are just the start. 

"We are going to follow the national codes and we are going to change anything that's not [in] line with the national codes, and we are going to open the [Buildings Accessibility] Act," she said.  

Gambin-Walsh said more details will be released at the announcement, including a review of the existing accessibility legislation. 

'It's not working for us'

The provincial government can expect to be under close scrutiny.

Paralympian and advocate Joanne MacDonald says she won't be satisfied unless legislative changes are enacted.  

"I'm at a point in my life where I believe right now it's clear discrimination," she said.

"The legislation is discriminating against individuals with disabilities in this province. It's not working for us. It's actually keeping us out. We have businesses here that remove accessibility features. They're allowed to do it." 

Paralympian Joanne MacDonald of St. John's has long been an advocate for people with disabilities. (CBC )

As an example, MacDonald cited a hotel in St. John's that recently carried out major renovations. MacDonald, a wheelchair user, said getting in and out of the building now is more difficult than it was before the work was done. 

She said she's tried to speak to two managers there, but has not received calls back or invitations to meet. 

'Accessible for all'

Gambin-Walsh said the regulatory changes will be made based on input from the Building Accessibility Advisory Board, the Provincial Advisory Council for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities and from various community groups. 

Gambin-Walsh noted she has a 21-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum disorder. 

"So I've been around the disability community for 18 years, since the day he was diagnosed," said the minister. 

"As we move forward, we truly and honestly want to be able to educate and work with the business community so that it's accessible for all, not just persons with disabilities, but also for seniors, for moms who are pushing babies in strollers." 

MacDonald says a hotel in St. John's that recently carried out renovations is now harder to access for people in wheelchairs, like the one pictured here. (CBC)

The formal announcement is expected to be made just as CBC News presents an in-depth look at accessibility problems in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as possible solutions.  

The Access Denied series begins Oct. 22. It will address many issues that people with disabilities face, from public washrooms that aren't accessible to being socially isolated to difficulties finding employment. 

About the Author

Ramona Dearing

Ramona Dearing has worked as a reporter, host and producer at CBC's St. John's bureau.