Advocates want promise of Alberta accessibility legislation in election platforms

Advocates want action on law to remove barriers for people with disabilities.

A passenger waits to begin her trip on a Calgary Transit Access bus on March 6, 2019. Bryan Labby, CBC

Michelle Bellefontaine, CBC News Edmonton April 22, 2023

Alberta is one of the last provinces without accessibility legislation prompting advocates for people with disabilities to get the issue on the agenda in the upcoming provincial election.

Members of Barrier-Free Alberta have been meeting with MLAs, caucuses and cabinet ministers over the past number of years. With the election campaign starting on May 1, they are now reaching out to candidates.

Sam Mason, a community advocate with Barrier-Free Alberta, said people have expressed support for the legislation but other issues like COVID-19, health care and affordability have been more of a priority for government. The scope of the legislation is also overwhelming, she suggested.

“It just kind of gets lost in the shuffle a little bit just because it is really big legislation that would impact every facet of the government,” she said.

The Accessible Canada Act, which covers areas under federal jurisdiction, came into force in 2019.

Six provinces have laws on the books. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have legislation in progress, leaving Alberta and Prince Edward Island as the only outliers among the provinces.

Jeremy Nixon, Alberta’s minister of community and social services, said Alberta’s advocate for persons with disabilities has started work on a future act. He said government plans to make a decision on next steps after receiving the advocate’s report this summer.

“It does have implications that could be broad-reaching into the community,” NIxon said. “So we want to make sure that anything we do as we move forward that we’re broadly consulting with the sector, with the disability community itself, as well as other stakeholders.”

Mason says the current legislative system involves acts that address a small part of the larger issue such as rules for service animals. This patchwork of legislation creates inconsistency and gaps.

Equity issues

Advocates say provincial legislation is a matter of equality. Chris Ryan, a lawyer in Calgary, said in a recent opinion column for CBC News that lack of accessibility legislation is his ballot box issue.

Ryan has had problems with accessible transit services with unreliable service and high costs. When he lived in Edmonton, he said getting to work on time meant forcing his wheelchair through snowy sidewalks just to get to a bus stop.

“One time I fell out of my chair in the middle of a busy street because of the snowfall,” Ryan said in an interview with CBC News. “Forcing people with disabilities to undergo these things just to participate in society isn’t fair.”

Chris Ryan on an icy sidewalk near his Calgary home. For somebody in a wheelchair, it’s hard to get around in one of the few provinces that lacks comprehensive accessibility legislation. Mike Symington, CBC

The 2022 policy document from the UCP is silent on accessibility legislation but the party is expected to release its 2023 election platform in the next few weeks.

The Alberta Party advocates for accessibility legislation in its party policies.

The Alberta NDP caucus proposed creating accessibility legislation as part of its affordable housing policy paper. The NDP — which is responsible for making platform promises — said the party will “explore” drafting and passing legislation if they form government.

“We recognize accessibility as a human right and with an Alberta NDP government, we will take immediate steps to create a framework allowing us to identify, remove, and prevent barriers to access for all disabled Albertans,” St. Albert candidate Marie Renaud said in a written statement.

Mason, from Barrier-Free Alberta, said advocates will continue to push for strong and effective legislation.

“Many people are in support, understand it’s a good idea,” she said. “[We’re] just really trying to take the next step in getting it actually passed.”

Michelle Bellefontaine, Provincial affairs reporter
Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada. Follow Michelle on Twitter.

Source CBC News Edmonton


Also see
Steep ramps, broken elevators: Report outlines accessibility shortcomings of transit in Edmonton CBC
☞ There’s no getting around — Alberta’s lack of accessibility law is my ballot box issue

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