Opinion: B.C.’s second housing disaster

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Opinion: The vast majority of homes are built with no consideration for accessibility or even adaptability, which means that more and more people cannot find a home that suits their needs.

Author of the article:

Stephanie Cadieux

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An example of an inaccessible building under construction. An example of an inaccessible building under construction.

For many British Columbians, the struggle for equal access and independence has gone on. Our communities still have too many barriers for people with disabilities, who make up nearly 25 percent of the province’s population. Fortunately, society’s view of disability is evolving. Despite this social change and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which stipulates the protection of people with disabilities, many people continue to feel disenfranchised.

Take housing for example – there are few provincial guidelines to ensure that accessible housing is available. This is a crucial aspect in ensuring the dignity and independence of people with a disability. The housing crisis, as it is called in relation to affordability, is a frequent topic of discussion and its resolution was a promise made by this government. However, since the provincial government is unable to cope with a housing crisis, a lesser-known crisis in barrier-free housing goes completely unnoticed by the legislature. The vast majority of homes are built with no consideration for accessibility or even adaptability, which means that more and more people cannot find a home that suits their needs.

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I tried to overcome this obstacle by tabled a bill for private members, the Building Amendment Act, last July and two times before. Legislation would require that all new apartment buildings take account of accessibility and that a certain percentage of all new homes meet the accessibility criteria. However, the government has not been interested in bringing it up for debate in the three years that I’ve introduced it. Now we have an Accessible BC Act, an enabling law, but no mention of a timetable or this government’s intention to extend the law to include housing.

My own beliefs have evolved over the 20 years I’ve spent advocating improving accessibility. While I used to believe that through education and positive reinforcement we could make meaningful advances in accessibility, I now know that that alone is not enough.

If we are to achieve the meaningful advancement that people with disabilities deserve, we need enforced laws. Bills like my private member’s Bill and the federal Canada Accessibility Act are important steps to ensure that people with disabilities have the same dignity, opportunity, and participation as everyone else. The Accessible BC Act can also be an important driver – but political will and social pressure are necessary.

I hope that the future of BC will change for the better as society deepens its understanding of disability. The future looks bright for accessibility as the province has a growing appreciation for diversity and we emerge from the pandemic with a keen sense of the monumental effort to care for one another. However, there is now a need for action.

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Until government action is taken, the burden will be on those who already live with a disability to continue advocacy. After the National Accessibility Week, please consider how you can achieve an inclusive, barrier-free BC.

Stephanie Cadieux is the BC Liberal Critic for Gender Equality, Accessibility and Inclusion.

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