Cadieux: Removing barriers should be a provincial priority

When it comes to reducing barriers, B.C. has made progress, but still has a long way to go


Imagine for a moment you were the keynote speaker at an event, but you arrived and couldn’t get onto the stage.

What if you couldn’t speak and were refused medical services unless you allowed someone to speak for you?

What if you booked a vacation of a lifetime and arrived at your destination only to be told they didn’t have the special room you’d carefully booked, despite promises?

What if you applied for a job, but when they called you to book an interview and learned you had a disability they hung up?

What if you wanted to attend a sporting event or a concert with friends but couldn’t sit with them because you were limited to sitting with only one other person, and if you tried to sit with your friends elsewhere, you’re asked to leave because you’re considered a fire hazard?

What if you took your three-year-old to the park to play but you were barred from getting to the playground equipment with them?

Worse yet, what if you were six years old and you were the only kid who didn’t get to go to your friend’s birthday party because the friend’s house was inaccessible?

Have you ever had to decline an invitation to go to an event or activity with friends because there was no accessible washroom?

What if you are blind or have limited vision and you go to a restaurant for lunch, and they haven’t got large-print and braille menus?

What if you had a cognitive impairment and couldn’t understand the form you needed to fill out to receive a service because the form used technical language, long sentences, and multi-syllable words?

Accessible parking spaces don’t seem like a big deal, but if you do not have adequate space to open your car door all the way to lift your chair out or to lower a lift or the days snowfall is piled up in the only accessible parking spot, it isn’t simply an inconvenience – it may as well be a brick wall.

Would you be frustrated? Sad? Disillusioned? Feel left out? Would you be angry?

Yes, barriers are real. They still exist in 2021; they still exist in British Columbia.

RELATED: New online tool provides accessibility map for people with disabilities

It’s not a sob story. I’m not telling you this to feel sorry for me or for others, quite the opposite. I’m telling you this to emphasize the opportunity and the obligation we have to eliminate these very real and unnecessary barriers.

There are more than 926,000 British Columbians over the age of 15 with some sort of disability, a barrier to full and equitable participation. That’s nearly 25 per cent of the population. That’s 25 per cent who may not, because of these barriers, be able to access their community, employment, or even government services such as healthcare.

We can change that – but we must be honest. We must acknowledge that the biggest barrier of all is ourselves and our own biases. In fact, attitudinal barriers are the most pervasive because they contribute to other barriers.

For example, some people may not be aware of challenges that exist in getting to or into a place can limit a person with a disability from participating in everyday life. Some just don’t take the time to think. Others just think it’s not their problem, so who cares?

We are probably all guilty of this in some capacity, but often people with disabilities are stereotyped, the assumption being that their quality of life is poor or that they are unhealthy or unwell because of their disability.

Thankfully, broader society’s understanding of disability is improving as we shift the definition of “disability” from a personal deficit or shortcoming to more what occurs because a person’s needs are not addressed in the physical and social environment. The earlier previous examples are just a few, and there are many more. So why do the barriers persist? Because they can.

I was recently told by a business, when I suggested some improvements to their accessibility, “I’ve done what I am required to by law.”

I certainly would have hoped people’s thinking would have evolved by now – 30 years after my injury first thrust me into this reality – but it hasn’t, at least not enough. I’ve always been a believer that education and positive reinforcement was the answer – more carrot, less stick. But 30 years later, I have evolved my thinking: more stick is required.

I introduced the New Housing Amendment Act because we, as a society, need to design and build housing that works for everyone. That’s why a few years ago we moved forward with Accessibility 2024. That’s why the government of Canada has passed Bill C-81, that’s why all parties here in B.C. have committed to B.C. Accessibility legislation.

There is much to do and everyone can help. When you see a barrier for someone else, speak up.

My own experience with disability and my work within the disability community – both as a board member of the Disability Alliance of BC and my work with SCI-BC and other disability groups, and as a former Minister responsible for social programs in B.C. – has broadened my views and exposed me to the vast and varied experience of the disability community and taught me the importance and the challenges associated with bringing those diverse experiences to a common goal.

Be it the built environment, employment, communications, service delivery, transportation, or procurement, the reality is that barriers continue to exist, and even to be erected. We now have the express intent to proactively confront those barriers and break them down. Let’s get this right.

But we do need to learn from those who have gone before. We do need to attempt to move to a national standard and away from creating yet another standard. There are examples of good work already done.

Many are on display at YVR because management has decided to ask the right questions, of the right people, and has committed to making the necessary changes.

Last year I had the opportunity to test out a prototype wheelchair lift that could provide wheelchair access to seaplanes. Proving almost anything is possible with commitment and ingenuity.

The advocates and the disability community in its broadest sense, will be looking for the act (both federally, and what we ultimately do provincially) to bring about both systemic and societal attitudinal change – it is a big expectation to fill. But it is the right thing to do. It makes economic and social sense.

Stephanie Cadieux is MLA for Surrey South and BC Liberal Critic for Gender Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

RELATED: B.C. permanently increases disability and income assistance, senior’s supplement

BC politicsBritish Columbiadisabilities

Just Posted

A scene from the Schoolhouse Squat from October 2018, where Alliance Against Displacement members and supporters occupied the Rutherford Elementary School site, advocating for people experiencing homelessness. (News Bulletin file)
‘Schoolhouse Squat’ activists get conditional discharge in Nanaimo school occupation

Ivan Donald Drury, Tingchun (Listen) Chen sentenced in provincial court in Nanaimo

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of two shot by police in critical condition says Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

Condemned building of the Twin Gables Motel in Crofton is not safe and yet a teen has been climbing around on the roof while others were ripping the siding off the building. (Photo submitted)
Destructive behaviour by teens wreaking havoc on Crofton

Residents becoming fed up with the constant vandalism and fires

A fire destroyed a commercial building on Idlemore Road early Tuesday. The fire is under investigation. (Kenn Mount photo)
Early morning fire destroys new Sooke distillery

Firefighters still investigating cause of Island Shiners Distillery blaze early Tuesday

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham promotes the government’s BuyBC food program in 2019. (B.C. government)
Money running out for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in B.C. schools

‘Looking at ways to support this type of program,’ minister says

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Experts now predict 33.6% rise in B.C. home sales for 2021

BCREA economists also predict home prices to increase by 14.3%

A boat caught on fire this morning (May 11) in Port Hardy. (Adam Harding/Port Hardy Fire Rescue Facebook photo)
Fishing boat catches fire in Port Hardy, owner’s quick thinking puts out flames

The incident is a good reminder to always have a working fire extinguisher onboard your boat

Most Read