As a provincial deadline looms for municipalities to establish accessibility committees, a researcher is raising concerns with the process West Shore communities are using to comply with the new requirements.
Alfiya Battalova, an assistant professor at Royal Roads University and career accessibility researcher, said she sees flaws based on observations of the process used by West Shore municipalities to determine how best to comply with the province’s Accessible British Columbia Act. The act requires each public sector organization to establish an accessibility committee, develop an accessibility plan and create a mechanism for public feedback regarding accessibility by Sept. 1.
Namely, Battalova said there is little evidence people living with different abilities were consulted on how best to meet the requirements, despite being the main part of the community impacted by the legislation.
“I think a lot of municipalities are focusing on the outcome – just complying with legislation – but they forget the core principle behind the legislation is ‘nothing about us without us,’ which is one of the key principles in the disability movement. It’s about involving people with disabilities in any decisions which will impact them,” said Battalova.
The majority of West Shore municipalities either have agreed to, or are soon to decide whether to agree to, establish a new regional Capital West Accessibility Advisory Committee to meet the provincial requirements, with the exact terms of reference to be developed over the fall, plus a sub-committee consisting of municipal staff tasked with creating the initial accessibility plans.
But Battalova said it remains unclear whether anyone with lived experience of a disability will be involved in that process due to a lack of transparency.
Another concern Battalova has with the process is that the existing Intermunicipal Advisory Committee on Disability Issues (IACDI) – which has served West Shore communities for more than 30 years and on which she serves as RRU’s representative – has had limited involvement or consultation, despite being seen as a potential option for compliance with the act.
A staff report presented to View Royal Council on July 18 says IACDI participated in several intermunicipal working groups discussing the proposed new regional committee, but committee chair Marnie Essery wrote a letter dated June 5 to View Royal and other West Shore municipalities requesting clarity on “the lack of consultation” despite “all attempts to work with staff,” and highlighting a number of “inaccuracies (that) have been circulated about our committee.”
“Engagement must start with respect for lived experience and a proven track record of inclusive broad-based consultation. IACDI’s process has been to identify the issue, determine who within our broad community-based network should be reached out to for context and information, and how this information can be brought forward to the committee for input and direction.
“This process cannot be fast-tracked but the provincial legislation must get input from people with lived experience in a meaningful broad consultation that attempts to view all abilities, mobility, sight, hearing, cognitive and age-related concerns,” wrote Essery.
Battalova said if her concerns are left unaddressed, it could lead to critical decisions on accessibility being made by municipalities that fail to reflect the real needs of the community and result in negative impacts on accessibility.
“The committees are supposed to engage a variety of different perspectives, and that won’t be the case. There is a trust erosion in municipalities with these processes, and unfortunately a continuation of exclusion.”