Julia Hutton speaks with Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson during a consultation session at Chorus regarding B.C.’s planned accessibility legislation, hosted by Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo for people who use Semiahmoo House Society’s programs and services. (Tracy Holmes photo)

South Surrey self-advocates help give voice to accessibility concerns

Consultation sessions address transportation, housing, employment and more

The common room at Chorus – an apartment building in South Surrey that combines accessible, independent-living units with affordable rentals – was abuzz Monday morning with discussions around accessibility.

The 90-minute consultation session, which was attended by B.C.’s minister of social development and poverty reduction, was the first of 11 scheduled by the Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo, to help those who access services at Semiahmoo House Society share their insights on accessibility legislation planned for B.C.

Funded by a $2,000 grant, the sessions are about ensuring the voices of those who either have trouble speaking up, or simply can’t, are heard, facilitator Alexander Magnussen told Peace Arch News.

“It’s very new to get people that ‘don’t have an opinion’” involved in such processes, Magnussen said, commending the effort he has seen to change that.

“I want my children to go, ‘People with disabilities not included? That’s not possible.”

The ministry opened consultation on accessibility in September, and is collecting input through Nov. 29 to inform legislation that’s being developed for next year. The provincial guidelines are to build on the Accessible Canada Act, which received royal ascent on June 21.

READ MORE: B.C. communities urged to improve access for disabled people

Under that legislation, the federal government is to develop accessibility standards and regulations in priority areas such as employment, the built environment, and the design and delivery of programs and services – all towards creating a barrier-free Canada.

Monday, Min. Shane Simpson took time to sit with each of three groups to hear their thoughts as they worked through questions from the province’s online survey – adapted by Magnussen for ease of understanding.

Suggestions included a need to expand the use of auditory crosswalks, as well as the use of braille on signage. There is also a need to increase awareness of disabilities, to the point that addressing the needs of such individuals is a natural step, rather than an afterthought, Simpson heard.

Community support worker Deb Rourke told Simpson the process of obtaining passes to access community programming is too onerous; that individuals applying for the modified access have to repeatedly prove they meet the criteria.

“They have to go back every year to prove… they have a disability,” she said, describing the work of applying as at a similar level to doing income taxes. “These guys shouldn’t have to go through this every year.”

For Julia Hutton, accessibility with regard to travel and work were key issues, however, all of the topics covered “mean something to all of us,” she said.

“It’s a good thing we’re getting government aware,” said Hutton, 29. “I don’t think they really realize how important it is. We’re not a small population – we’re huge.”

She told PAN “the more awareness there is, the better.”

“Accessibility, in general, for anywhere, is very important.”

Baksho Ghangass, whose daughter Manjeet is a SAS member, told Simpson there needs to be more education around how to treat people with disabilities, as well as around their value in the workforce.

“It’s not really as inconceivable an idea” as some believe, Ghangass said of the latter point, noting that benefits include the individuals’ reliability and determination to work hard.

Simpson agreed that employees with disabilities add value in the workplace, and that comments from employers have included that “they made my company better.”

Simpson said he is determined to follow the mantra “nothing about us without us” throughout the legislation-planning process.

“The best people to give the advice on that are the people who live every day with a disability,” he said.

“How do we make that an ongoing part of the process, to ensure that people who live with a wide range of disabilities have a strong voice in decisions that get made, in how we set standards, in how we make this legislation… work and be successful.”

This month is not the first time SAS members have spoken up for accessibility. The group was federally recognized in 2017 for their work on the Accessible Canada Act. That work included participating in a National Youth Forum in Ottawa in November 2016, where members had a chance to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau how his government was going to improve access for people with disabilities.

READ MORE: South Surrey self advocates weigh in on accessibility legislation

A report on the feedback gleaned during SAS sessions is to be forwarded to Simpson for inclusion in the legislation planning.

While the 11 sessions are not open to the general public, Magnussen said he still has some availability to lead community-group consultations this month. To enquire about a booking, or for more information, email SAS at sas@shsbc.ca

To access the online survey regarding the legislation, visit feedback.engage.gov.bc.ca/319178?lang=en

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Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson chats with Semiahmoo House Society clients including Brandon Cantelon, as well as SHS support staff, during a consultation session Monday at Chorus regarding B.C.’s planned accessibility legislation. The session was the first of 11 set for this month, hosted by Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson chats with Semiahmoo House Society clients and support staff Monday during a consultation session at Chorus regarding B.C.’s planned accessibility legislation. The session was the first of 11 set for this month, hosted by Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo. (Tracy Holmes photo)

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