Nova Scotia

Heavily criticized Accessibility Act garners praise following redraft

Changes to the proposed law will see stiffer penalties for businesses, organizations and governments who don't comply with standards and now includes people with learning disabilities.

Bill 59 aims to ensure Nova Scotia is more accessible to those with disabilities

Gerry Post (foreground) said he's pleased with changes to Bill 59. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Stiffer penalties and stronger language are two of the changes announced Monday to Nova Scotia's Accessibility Act after officials redrafted the proposed law following heavy criticism in the aftermath of its introduction last fall.

The legislation is designed to ensure Nova Scotia is more accessible to those who are physically or intellectually disabled. It could affect everything from building design, to how disabled people are treated in the workplace, to public transportation and education.

The act now contains fines of $250,000 for those who don't comply with standards, a steep increase from $25,000. It also states standards need to be "achieved," rather than "improved." People with learning disabilities are also included in the new law.

It's hoped Bill 59 could be passed by the Nova Scotia Legislature this week.

'It's much better'

The nuts and bolts of the new standards — such as what physical changes will be necessary to provide barrier-free access to buildings — will be developed by various committees and approved by an accessibility advisory board. At least a majority of the board must be made up by people with disabilities.

The changes to Bill 59, particularly the fixed 2030 deadline for Nova Scotia businesses, organizations and government offices to comply with standards, makes Gerry Post happy.

"I'm very please at the outcome of the bill," said Post, who uses a wheelchair. "It's much better, we worked closely with the government to get these improvements made."

Post is a member of the committee overseeing the development of the new act. He said he was impressed by the detailed implementation plan set for the first year, "so we know how to achieve that 2030 target. It's only 13 years, it's not that far and there's a lot of work to be done."

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Diana Whalen said the government was 'blessed' to have the feedback it received from groups anxious to improve the province's Accessibility Act. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The proposed legislation is now similar to that of Ontario and Manitoba.

Post also lauded the provincial government for stepping up efforts to improve the process of creating the new act after a barrage of criticism by the groups it was supposed to help.

It went before the legislature's law amendments committee in Halifax early in March where more than two dozen people spoke.

'Pass it this week'

Justice Minister Diana Whalen said Monday the community spoke with a united voice.

"There was a tremendous effort … to bring everyone under the same tent. I'd say we were blessed."

Post said the time for discussion about the Accessibility Act has passed and it's time to "pass it this week. ASAP."

He said he does not believe it will be held up in the House as all three parties have supported improvements to the bill.

With files from Steve Berry


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