The Select Committee for Accessibility in New Brunswick will be meeting soon to discuss the development of an Accessible NB Act.
The committee, composed of members of all parties, was the creation of Motion 78, passed by the New Brunswick Legislature on December 3, 2021, on the occasion of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities.
As a passionate disability advocate, I have high hopes that the Select Committee will make meaningful recommendations to the Legislature that will improve legislation in New Brunswick in 2022.
Community stakeholders were given until December 31, 2021 to submit briefs up to five pages in length.
Some of the recommendations I submitted include ensuring the 2015 National Building Codes are more strictly enforced in the province. There is no reason that new builds should be inaccessible.
Obtaining housing is nearly impossible for everyone these days, especially with the cost of rent rising. Can you imagine in addition to the burden of higher rent, also not being able to access the front door or bathroom in your home? When developers cut costs on these projects, they inevitably just download those costs onto people with disabilities, who often pay for them by diminished living standards, and greater hardship in their day-to-day life.
Many people with disabilities make do with inadequate living conditions as it is their only option for housing. It is unacceptable that people must choose between an expensive and inaccessible apartment, or the streets. For this reason, “accessible housing” must be redefined beyond simply the ability for a wheelchair user to get in the front door of their home.
New apartment complexes should also be required to reserve a certain percentage of their units for NB Housing clients, while receiving incentives to make them accessible. Mixed housing opportunities, meaning complexes that house people of all income levels, age groups, and abilities, would also increase opportunities for informal support between neighbours. A senior neighbour helping a neighbour with a disability and vice versa could lower the cost of government-provided supports, and improve security of housing for many New Brunswickers.
The Household Income Policy must also be reformed to allow for people with disabilities to live with partners or roommates without potentially losing benefits and support. This means-tested policy was designed with the belief that people with disabilities would inevitably be dependent on their families or partners. It is outdated, paternalistic, and prevents many people from living their lives independently, and fully integrated into the economy and labour force.
Axing the Household Income Policy would increase the possibilities for informal support and make the cost of living more affordable for people with disabilities and the people they choose to live with.
New Brunswick has an abundance of natural beauty and exciting tourism opportunities. Often our most popular tourist locations are inaccessible for people with mobility disabilities. Grading, paving, or laying fine gravel on provincial trails would make them more accessible for everyone and long beach mats at our provincial beaches would increase access for wheelchair users. Increased accessibility in the tourism sector would lead to more New Brunswickers spending money within the province and could attract more tourists from outside of the province.
Moreover, like many New Brunswickers with a disability, I am currently struggling to find a job that fits my disability needs. I believe employers need to be more accommodating to make sure someone with a disability can be successful working for their company. This may include special accommodations such as an ergonomic workstation or special software, to make sure performing their job can be done as efficiently as possible with the right supports in place.
Adequate training and time should be provided to make sure people are as successful in the workplace as they can be. It stands to reason that people with a disability will work harder in their job if they are happy. Employers also sometimes get incentives for hiring 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 inform legislation through the Select Committee on Accessibility, and I was grateful for the opportunity to submit a brief—even though the disabled community may have benefitted from more ways to make submissions.
Submissions—which were cut off on December 31st, less than a month after the committee was struck—were only accepted via email. The Select Committee would benefit from hearing from community members who might have submitted audio or video submissions. This would have made submissions more accessible.
It is important that no vital decision be made without us, as disability and poverty activists famously say: “Nothing about us without us.” I welcome more opportunities to work with government to make New Brunswick more inclusive and accessible for all!
Kaitlyn Layden is a disability rights advocate in New Brunswick.
We corrected an error in an earlier version of this article: it stated the Select Committee for Accessibility in New Brunswick will meet to discuss proposed changes to the Human Rights Act. In fact, the committee will be discussing the development of an Accessible NB Act, according to Ability New Brunswick Inc. The correction was made on January 5, 2022 at approximately 1:45 pm.