The City of Victoria wants to make the city and the province “barrier free.”
Council passed a motion Thursday asking the provincial government to enact a “strong and effective” British Columbians with Disabilities Act, which was added to the consent agenda at committee of the whole. Other provinces, including Ontario and Manitoba, have provincial accessibility laws, which include such regulations as building and structural guidelines, and allowing service animals.
Coun. Jeremy Loveday, who put the motion forward, said people with disabilities need more legal protections. Currently, the province’s Human Rights Tribunal is the only body used to address accessibility issues, but the province does have a non-binding Accessibility 2024 10-year action plan.
“Accessibility is a human rights issue, but without laws to mandate these changes, progress has been very slow, and has unfortunately had to rely on the court system to get any movement at all,” Loveday said. “I believe as a society we can and need to do better, and this sort of provincial legislation would be the next step.”
This sort of change would align with what the City of Victoria has already been doing for three years, he said, referring to consultations with the city’s Accessibility Working Group and Accessibility Fund. A pilot project looking at textured surfaces at curb cuts, and accessible pedestrian signals at intersections to help those with visual impairments, are some of the initiatives that came out of the working group earlier this year.
Chris Mark, a member of the accessibility group, said these kinds of changes are needed to help people with disabilities get around the city.
Something seemingly as simple as ordering a taxi can difficult for someone who uses a wheelchair, said Mark, who has been quadriplegic for 12 years and finds he’s often told he has to book a cab 24 hours in advance.
“I just want to do stuff like a normal person, right?” he said.
He has to plan out his day well in advance, from whether he wants to wear a heavy jacket — he won’t be able to take it off once it’s on — to the routes he will travel, to where he can find an accessible washroom. He phones ahead to find out whether places will have ramps or electric doors. Parking too, is one regular issue he faces.
And while the city is making some changes, he said having consistent accessibility requirements across the province would make it much easier for people like him, and for others with other physical and invisible disabilities, to access public spaces and businesses with fewer barriers.
“I hope there’s some financial incentive to small businesses…[that] want to put in an automatic door,” he said. “There should be some kind of financial incentive from the government…so it doesn’t fall down on the small businesses.”