The B.C. Strategy for Coordinating Disability
The past three issues of ABILITIES have highlighted the different components of the Strategy and what it has been achieving over its 18 months of implementation.
Whatever its future shape may be, the Strategy has been a necessary step in understanding the everyday lives and needs of persons with disabilities and in urging government to respond to the community.
The mid-point review of the Strategy reported that it “…has the potential to be a model for the government’s relationship with all of the province’s many communities.”
DIRECTOR JONASEN IS OPTIMISTIC, MINISTER SIHOTA IS ON BOARD
Director Frank Jonasen is hopeful about what has been accomplished, and determined to carry on: “I continue to be very optimistic and encouraged by the commitment and progress towards improving the lives of persons with disabilities in B.C. It is important to continue to be strong advocates and constantly challenge the ODI and government on the issues that affect our lives. The ODI is a vehicle for change, and the community must drive that vehicle.”
Jonasen’s optimism has been fuelled recently by the support he’s received during consultation with senior government officials, including the Minister Responsible for Disability Issues, Moe Sihota. Sihota, who is also Minister of Education, Skills and Training, and Minister of Labour, is
one of the most articulate and prominent politicians in B.C. today. He brings his experience as a lawyer and social worker to his new disability-related responsibilities.
UNIVERSAL DISABILITY ACCESS CARD
Shortly after being appointed, Sihota received a letter from the former Minister Responsible for Disability Issues, Paul Ramsay. One of Ramsay’s constituents had complained about having constantly to re-explain and document his disability when he wanted to apply for disability-related discounts. Sihota got the ODI working on the problem.
Now the ODI is getting several ministries together to discuss creating a universal access card that all persons with disabilities could use to qualify for any relevant program, anywhere in B.C. This would certainly save both program administrators and persons with disabilities time, money and frustration.
The ODI also recognizes that, in the past, there has been anxiety that such a card might stereotype or “label” persons with disabilities. Therefore, at the same time, the ODI is surveying the community to find out what their current concerns may be.
MORE ACCESSIBLE TRANSPORTATION
Nobody likes to wait in long lineups at the ferries, but for many people with a disability it becomes more than just an inconvenience. A person in a wheelchair-equipped van can become literally trapped for hours at a time if he or she misses the ferry and the cars in the next lane are
parked too close, preventing the lift equipment from being operated.
Problems such as this have led to meetings with B.C. Ferries to discuss fee schedules, terminal building access, loading-lane access and assured loading for persons with disabilities. Frank Jonasen, Dave Symington and Joe Coughlin from the ODI are currently assessing the main ferry terminals that run from the island to the mainland.
The next step is the development of a joint communiqu? to inform consumers with disabilities who use the ferries what the ferry system will do for them. This is a two-way street, however, and the ODI has agreed to inform the community of its responsibilities. It is up to the consumers
to give specific instructions to ferry personnel about what special equipment is needed to assist them.
The ODI is also involved in monitoring and working towards the consistent application and enforcement of parking legislation concerning persons with disabilities, and hopes to have a major influence on the regulatory process following a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Union of B.C. Municipalities. The goal is to have “disabled parking” mean the same thing across B.C.
The ODI is also concerned about availability of accessible seats on bus lines serving Vancouver Island. It has learned that Laidlaw operates three buses holding two wheelchairs each, and has another bus that can be converted to hold around 26 wheelchairs. This service isn’t well
advertised, though, so the ODI is meeting with Laidlaw to discuss ways of letting persons with disabilities know there’s space for them on Laidlaw buses.
Another major carrier, Pacific Coach Lines, doesn’t have accessible buses yet but has agreed to work with the ODI to develop its policies on persons with disabilities, including carry-on procedures, types of wheelchairs it can handle, and training for its drivers. Here, the ODI plays an
educative role, illustrating to the company the importance of accessibility, and helping it to develop a long-term plan for purchasing accessible buses.
RAISING AWARENESS AMONG EMPLOYERS, CO-WORKERS AND THE TOURISM
As the ODI’s work progresses, education plays a larger role. DiscoverAbility training, a one-day workshop commissioned by the ODI to sensitize government employees to the many issues faced by persons with disabilities in and around the workplace, continues to do just that.
The workshop has drawn positive comments from hundreds of participants in recent sessions. It gives people a chance to “try a disability on for size” and examine their use of language and attitudes regarding disability, and also encourages them to set clear goals on what they can do to provide reasonable accommodation in their workplaces.
Other sessions are planned for the remainder of the fiscal year, and the ODI is exploring linking the workshop to the province’s Public Service Training Program, so that managers who hire persons with disabilities for six-month terms can be prepared to offer their trainees a supportive
and aware working environment.
Following on DiscoverAbility’s success is another valuable training initiative, Customers with Disabilities, started by Tourism British Columbia as part of its Superhost Face to Face Workshop series. Through this initiative, front-line service providers — hotel, restaurant and retail staff —
will learn how to be more sensitive towards persons with disabilities, and acquire superior customer service skills, allowing them to respect the unique requirements of a wide range of persons with disabilities.
DiscoverAbility’s facilitators, Kevin Gardner and Joe Higgins, will be on hand during the initial Customers with Disabilities train-the-trainer sessions to field questions.
HOME SUPPORT SERVICES
The ODI has brought the concerns of persons with disabilities regarding the delivery of home support services and respite care forward to government. Home support services are non-medical personal assistance services helping persons with disabilities live in the community more
independently. Respite care provides relief for family caregivers.
The community is questioning the restriction of these services for two reasons: cuts in home support have left many clients without a supported means of maintaining their homes sanitarily; and the demand for respite far exceeds supply, creating long waiting lists and often desperate situations for some families.
Another issue is the use of means testing to establish user fees for these services, which can devastatingly affect family income and restrict opportunities for family members to educate themselves, plan for the future or develop their careers. The ODI has found that B.C. is one of
the most expensive provinces in Canada for people who need these services.
The ODI, along with its Community Living Supports Working Group, is trying to find options for government to remove or reduce barriers in home support and respite programs. “We need to design these services so people can grow and become as independent as possible,” says ODI Policy Coordinator Steve Reid. “After all, people come to government for help, not headaches.”
NEW MINISTER RESPONSIBLE FOR DISABILITY ISSUES
Moe Sihota, 40, was appointed Minister of Education, Skills and Training, and Minister of Labour, and Minister Responsible for Disability Issues, on June 17, 1996.
Prior to that he served as Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks. From 1991 to 1993, Mr. Sihota served as Minister of Labour and Consumer Services and Minister Responsible for Constitutional Affairs.
First elected in 1986, he represents the riding of Esquimalt-Metchosin, BC.
Before being elected to the legislature, Mr. Sihota sat on Esquimalt Municipal Council. He has practised law in that community, and has previously been employed as a social worker.
Mr. Sihota holds a degree in Social Work from the University of British Columbia and a degree in Law from the University of Victoria. While at UBC, he served as a member of the Board of Governors and as Ombudsman.
Mr. Sihota is married and has two children.
THE OFFICE FOR DISABILITY ISSUES
P.O. BOX 9567
VICTORIA, BC V8W 9K1
PHONE: (604) 387-3813
FAX: (604) 387-3114
TTY: (604) 387-3555