Disability advocates push for a good New Brunswick year – NB Media Co-op

The Special Committee on Accessibility in New Brunswick will meet soon to discuss proposed changes to the province’s Human Rights Act.

The committee, made up of members from all parties, was the creation of Motion 78, adopted by the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick on December 3, 2021, on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

As a passionate advocate for people with disabilities, I am optimistic that the Special Committee will make meaningful recommendations to the Legislature that will improve legislation in New Brunswick in 2022.

Community workers had until December 31, 2021 to submit briefs of up to five pages in length.

Some of the recommendations I have submitted include ensuring that the 2015 national building codes are more strictly enforced in the province. There is no reason for new versions to be inaccessible.

Obtaining housing is almost impossible for everyone these days, especially with the rising cost of rents. Can you imagine, on top of the burden of a higher rent, not being able to access the front door or the bathroom in your home? When developers reduce the costs of these projects, they are inevitably content to pass those costs on to people with disabilities, who often pay them due to reduced living standards and greater difficulty in their daily lives.

Many people with disabilities are content with inadequate living conditions, as this is their only option for housing. It is unacceptable that people have to choose between an expensive and inaccessible apartment, or the street. For this reason, “accessible housing” needs to be redefined beyond the mere possibility for a wheelchair user to enter through the front door of their home.

New apartment complexes should also be required to reserve a certain percentage of their units for Housing NB clients, while receiving incentives to make them accessible. The possibilities of mixed housing, i.e. complexes that accommodate people of all income levels, age groups and abilities, would also increase the possibilities for informal support between neighbors. An elderly neighbor helping a neighbor with a disability and vice versa could reduce the cost of government-provided supports and improve home security for many New Brunswickers.

the Household income policy must also be reformed to enable people with disabilities to live with partners or roommates without potentially losing benefits and support. This means-tested policy was designed with the conviction that people with disabilities would inevitably be dependent on their family or partner. It is outdated, paternalistic and prevents many people from living their lives independently and fully integrated into the economy and the workforce.

Focus policy on household income increase opportunities for informal support and make the cost of living more affordable for people with disabilities and those they choose to live with.

New Brunswick is teeming with natural beauty and exciting tourism opportunities. Often our most popular tourist sites are inaccessible to people with reduced mobility. Leveling, paving or laying fine gravel on provincial trails would make them more accessible to everyone and long beach mats on our provincial beaches would increase access for wheelchair users. Increased accessibility in the tourism sector would cause more New Brunswickers to spend money in the province and could attract more tourists from out of the province.

In addition, like many New Brunswickers with a disability, I am currently struggling to find a job that meets my disability needs. I think employers need to be more accommodating to ensure that a person with a disability can successfully work for their company. This can include special accommodations such as an ergonomic workstation or special software, to ensure that their work can be done as efficiently as possible with the right supports in place.

Adequate training and time should be provided to ensure that people are as successful as possible in the workplace. It goes without saying that people with disabilities will work harder in their jobs if they are happy. Employers also sometimes benefit from incentives to hire people with disabilities, which benefits both parties.

New Brunswick has the second highest rate of disability in Canada. We should therefore welcome the opportunity to enlighten the legislation through the Special Committee on Accessibility, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to submit a brief, even though the disabled community has maybe benefited from more ways to make submissions.

The submissions, which were discontinued on December 31st, less than a month after the creation of the committee, were only accepted by e-mail. The select committee would benefit from hearing from community members who may have submitted audio or video submissions. This would have made the submissions more accessible.

It is important that no vital decisions are made without us, as disability and poverty activists say: “Nothing about us without us. I look forward to more opportunities to work with government to make New Brunswick more inclusive and accessible for all!

Kaitlyn Layden is a disability rights activist in New Brunswick.