Nova Scotia to get accessibility law

Minister: Panels will be held for community input and universities will need to comply.

Natalie Turner, second from right, acts as an ESL interpreter during the conference. Photo: Nikki Jamieson

Nova Scotia will take the first steps next week in making accessibility a law.

At a news conference at the Province House, community services minister Joanne Bernard said the province will introduce legislation aimed at eliminating barriers for people with physical limitations.

The panel will hold 11 sessions at 10 locations across the province, between Nov. 13 and Dec. 3.

“Persons with disabilities have to be part of the economic conversation in this province,” said  Bernard. “So the cost of not doing anything or legislating this into law is far greater than anything that will come out of this legislation.”

The discussion paper for the panels is available in alternate formats and Braille. Community Access Real-Time Translation and American Sign Language interpretation will be at all meetings.

A town hall meeting for the deaf community will go through the document, which will be posted as a webcast for those unable to attend. Also, transportation service providers have been contacted and informed of the talks in order to ensure that people can attend. All venues will be wheelchair-accessible.


Bernard will receive the recommendations in February of next year. However, any legislation that will come as a result from these panels will not come until at least spring 2016.

Currently, only Ontario and Manitoba have accessibility legislation. According to the Canadian Survey on Disability. Almost one in five Nova Scotians are currently living with additional needs.

The Hon. Kevin Murphy, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a quadriplegic after a hockey accident, said accessibility legislation is long overdue.

He said Nova Scotians wouldn’t think twice about issuing requirements “so that a female can enter a building, or a person of a different race could participate in a program or apply for a job.”

According to the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability, Nova Scotia has the highest rate of disabilities among the provinces and territories. Throughout Canada, the following disabilities were reported among Canadians ages 15 and over:

  • Pain: 9.7%
  • Flexibility: 7.6%
  • Mobility: 7.2%
  • Mental/psychological: 3.9%
  • Dexterity: 3.5%
  • Hearing: 3.2%
  • Sight: 2.7%
  • Memory: 2.3%
  • Learning: 2.3%
  • Developmental: 0.6%
  • Unknown: 0.3 %

“A more accessible, barrier-free province, will mean every Nova Scotian can participate fully in society,” said Anne MacRae, executive director of the province’s disabilities commission.

Will universities need to conform?

“We want to change… the culture of Nova Scotia… the culture of accessibility, ” said Bernard. “Going forward, organizations such as  post-secondary schools, will have to make some investments in making sure that the people they want to come spend their money in their schools are able to enter their buildings.”

All new buildings will have to abide by the accessibility legislation once it is in place, and older buildings will have to be made compliant. That could pose a problem for older buildings, such as Nova Scotia College of Art and Design’s Fountain Campus, which is more than 90 per cent inaccessible.

“We’ll have to move, there’s no way to do it,” said Bill Travis, NSCAD’s disabilities co-ordinator.

“Basically, what it cost to do the Barrington Place shops on the other side of the Granville Mall, back in the ‘70s, they basically gutted the whole structure… it was ridiculous. It is not something that a university would ever have the resources for.”

It would cost approximately half a billion dollars to make the more than 200-year old building accessible. The plan instead is to find a new location for the campus within 10 years.