Updated: Jan 2
For Dan Coulter, accessibility is something very personal
Chilliwack MLA and Parliamentary Secretary For Accessibility, Dan Coulter, joined BC Disability to talk about challenges to accessibility, increasing disability assistance, and his experiences as a person with a disability.
Spencer: Accessibility has become a greater challenge during the pandemic. For example, alternative and accessible entrances are being closed, space on sidewalks is being reduced, and people's options are being limited.
How can we promote accessibility in the pandemic period, and what can disabled persons do if they find themselves facing more of these barriers?
Dan: I firmly believe that folks with disabilities are their own best advocates. I face barriers myself using a wheelchair, and know what it feels like to face closures of accessible entrances and the routes which work best.
One thing that I have found effective from my personal experience is trying to deal with issues head on, by explaining the situation face to face and making that human connection with whoever you are dealing with.
Something as simple as ‘Hi, I need to use this entrance because I have a disability and the other entrance isn't suitable’. Let them know how it's impacting your life and you'll find that many people and businesses will accommodate you.
If that doesn’t work and you want to escalate the issue, you can also take your complaint to your MLA or to the Human Rights Tribunal if you believe you have grounds for a case.
Spencer: Does the government plan to create any legislation or measures specifically to deal with inaccessibility during the pandemic?
Dan: The government doesn’t have plans to come up with pandemic accessibility legislation, but we do have a COVID-19 disability working group so that we are hearing what disabled people are facing and are able to react to this. It's important for us to remain flexible and adapt as we receive feedback.
Spencer: Many disabled people participated in last year’s accessibility legislation consultations and then never heard anything from the government about it. What does that legislation look like and how do you plan to improve communication with the disabled community?
Dan: The accessibility legislation is coming during the spring sitting of the house. It is currently being written, and all the the feedback we’ve got, and are getting, is being considered or incorporated in the legislation.
The accessibility legislation is coming during the spring sitting
Part of my job is to continue consultations with stakeholders so the legislation reflects disabled people’s wishes. I will be engaging with groups that the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction has already been engaging with, and also expanding our communication and response process so that more people are involved.
We are going to resume and step up this process in the spring before the legislation is passed--getting out there and building dialogue with communities throughout BC.
The pandemic has required so much attention and interrupted some of the work we were doing, and that includes some of the dialogue that was happening, but the pieces are in place to come back strong.
Spencer: Have you taken note of federal accessibility legislation and the criticisms that have been raised about it?
Dan: Absolutely. The legislation itself and the consultation process for it. This is not simply a copy of the federal accessibility legislation, and we are working to make sure our legislation has strong enforcement mechanisms that make it robust and practical.
Spencer: A big part of accessibility is affordability. Disability assistance rates in BC are thousands of dollars below the poverty line, and the COVID top up was recently reduced from $300 to $150. The federal government also said the bare minimum a Canadian could live on is $2,000 monthly, but people on BC disability live on under $1,200.
People with disabilities are finding it very difficult to access suitable housing, to access therapies and programs, to access education. Disabled people and organizations have been saying rates need a significant raise for years, so will there be a permanent raise soon, and if not, why?
Dan: Cabinet is going to be making those decisions—it’s not a decision that I’m going to be making. Ministers Selina Robinson (Finance) and Nicholas Simons (Social Development and Poverty Reduction) and others will be important players in this process.
But Premier Horgan did say in question period and to the media that they are looking to permanently increase disability rates---this is something he’s advocating for and obviously he has a lot of influence within government.
There’s no getting around it when you look at the rates: it’s clear they aren’t where they should be, and I want people to understand that we recognize this. The current situation is the result of nearly two decades of neglect of disabled persons before we formed government, and it’s a situation we plan to fix with concrete measures. It won’t happen overnight, but important changes will be made soon.
There’s no getting around it when you look at the rates: it’s clear they aren’t where they should be
Spencer: David Eby is the Minister of Housing. How are you going to work with him to ensure that housing in BC is affordable and accessible for persons with disabilities? What measures will you include to ensure non-disabled people don’t move in and remove accessible features?
Dan: I will be working with David closely on this; in fact, it's mandated for my parliamentary secretary role. We will soon be doing consultations with stakeholders, and David will be bringing forth a new building code which relates to accessibility.
At this point I can't give much detail about specific policies, but we will be getting into policy development and consultation soon, and considering using a range of options to increase affordable and accessible housing supply in BC, with disability assistance rates being a component of this.
Spencer: As a disabled person, what does accessibility mean to you?
Dan: A more accessible BC is something that is very personal to me. I deal with inaccessibility on a daily basis and have for years and years.
I am in a wheelchair and have had to make modifications to living spaces and my car, have struggled with inaccessible transit, and I know first-hand what it’s like to be frustrated at a system that doesn't feel like it was made for you.
I know first-hand what it’s like to be frustrated at a system that doesn't feel like it was made for you.
I do think having a disability makes me better suited than a non-disabled person for this position. Lived experience is important, because if you don’t have it, you probably won’t understand how it makes a difference on a day-to-day basis.
There are some things that are obvious, like wheelchair ramps or curb-cuts, but so much of accessibility is subtler than that and not something you notice unless you're the one experiencing it.
Accessibility is a major issue in so many different sectors. I'm new to this role, but I am excited to get going and I plan to help make BC a more accessible place--one that embraces all people with disabilities.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!