NWT Human Rights Commission backs call for accessibility legislation
Says accessibility ‘is about a person’s dignity’ and is ‘good for business’
The NWT Human Rights Commission is supporting the development of accessibility legislation in the territory after a woman has called for the move to make the North barrier-free.
In an opinion piece published by CBC on April 23, 2019, Therese Estacion, who was born able-bodied but became a below-the-knee amputee in 2016 and a partial hands amputee in 2018, highlights the daily obstacles people with disabilities can face in Yellowknife and argues for the need for legislation.
"I've gotten a lot of really positive reaction," Estacion said of the piece, noting that local advocates and organizations like the Yellowknife chapter of the MS Society of Canada have long raised issues about accessibility in the North.
In a media release issued on May 1, 2019, the N.W.T. Human Rights Commission said it also supports the development of accessibility legislation. The press release states "accessibility is good for business" and that "at its core, accessibility is about a person's dignity."
"Accessibility is more than a legal standard. It involves fostering a sense of inclusion so people with disabilities can flourish," it adds.
Estacion said the press release is "the beginning of something" and that awareness and education is key to promoting change. She added that it takes all levels of government, organizations, businesses and community members to push for that change.
"It takes the whole community really coming together to kind of bring this about."
Currently in Canada, only Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have accessibility legislation in place. Estacion says that if the N.W.T. were to develop legislation, it could be a be a model for other jurisdictions.
"I think what it would mean is that … the N.W.T. is actually listening to the people that reside in the Northwest Territories and they're listening in particular to people that have often been marginalized or perhaps have been forgotten."
Charles Dent, chair of the N.W.T. Human Rights Commission, has previously told CBC News he hears a lot of concerns about physical barriers people with disabilities face in communities across the territory.
"Across the North, it's something that we need to try and do better at," he said.
According to the human rights commissions' last annual report, 72 per cent of the 39 human rights complaints filed in the 2017-2018 fiscal year alleged discrimination based on disability.
One issue the commission highlighted is that the national building code, which governs buildings in the Northwest Territories, doesn't require people to build an accessible standard.
"So when somebody uses the building code and builds a building, right off the bat they're not really providing something that is totally accessible to people who have mobility issues," Dent said.
The territorial government has recognized there is room to grow when it comes to addressing accessibility in the North. In November 2018, it released its disabilities action plan which includes a number of goals the territory plans to carry out by 2022 to support people with disabilities and their caregivers.
The Department of Infrastructure is currently updating the Good Building Practices for Northern Facilities which has guidelines on accessible design. And last year, the department developed an accessibility toolkit to help with accessible design in government offices. It said this will affect renovations to the third floor of the Stuart M. Hodgson building and construction of a new air terminal building in Inuvik.
For people that want to improve accessibility, the human rights commission also has an accessibility checklist for organizing public events on its website.
And federal funding is available for non-profits, businesses and governments, up to $100,000 per project, through the Enabling Accessibility for renovations, retrofits or other projects that address accessibility barriers.