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‘Nothing about us, without us’: West Shore accessibility committee breaks down barriers

The Intermunicipal Advisory Committee on Disability Issues has been ahead of the curve
Pictured alongside her father Dave Essery and Bobbi Neal with West Shore Parks and Recreation, Marnie Essery has been chair of the Intermunicipal Advisory Committee on Disability Issues for nearly 30 years. The committee has been advocating on behalf of all residents, regardless of ability, within the West Shore and Greater Victoria regions since 1989. (Courtesy of Marnie Essery)

For more than 30 years, the West Shore has had a dedicated team of volunteers advocating all levels of government and various organizations for enhanced accessibility for all.

While what’s now known as the Intermunicipal Advisory Committee on Disability Issues (IACDI) has evolved its mission over the years, what has been a constant is the good it has done for the community, not just for people living with disabilities, but for people of all ages and abilities.

“There is a saying that has been going around on the committee for the last few years which is ‘nothing about us, without us,’ and that’s sort of our key phrase,” said committee chair Marnie Essery. “IACDI is very committed to advocating and advising all councils on the West Shore, the CRD and beyond of the need to establish, develop, and maintain equitable policies, services, and facilities for persons with disabilities … and to provide the public an opportunity to provide input on accessibility issues.”

Established in 1989 as the City of Colwood’s Council Committees on the Disabled, the committee expanded into its current form – serving all West Shore communities and advocating across the Greater Victoria region – in 1993. It consists of 15 voting members, including representatives from Colwood, Langford, View Royal, Metchosin, Highlands, and Sooke, as well as citizen representatives and a representative from West Shore Parks and Recreation.

READ MORE: That’s RAD: Langford non-profit making the great outdoors accessible

While the committee is only advisory in nature, Essery said it has accomplished much in the 27 years she has chaired it. Among the most celebrated was the User Friendly Trails Initiative, which was produced in partnership with West Shore Parks and Recreation and has received awards since it was first published in 2010.

“I was disabled quite young – I was three and a half when I first got arthritis – and back in those days there was no such thing as accessibility. You had to go about it on your own and break down barriers yourself,” said Essery. “I know what I went through in terms of trying to find resources and break down barriers, and it is tough. It is really helpful if you have someone you can talk to and have as a mentor … this committee is a lifeline for people, we are a support, and we are also working together to make changes, and I am really grateful for that.”

In addition to its advocacy work, the committee also serves as a networking and outreach organization, helping the people it serves connect with one another through events like live music nights, social Zoom calls, and info sessions with the many partner organizations which provide services and resources in the community.

With the province’s changes to regulations under the Accessible British Columbia Act requiring many public entities such as school districts, municipalities, and health authorities to establish their own accessibility committees by Sept. 2024, Essery came to the realization just how far ahead of the curve the West Shore has been with IACDI.

“For me, I think that says a lot – that we were doing the work before the province had the legislation. We are now strongly advocating municipalities that don’t an accessibility committee to either start one, or partner with us to link with our committee.”

But while the committee has been successful and a leader in its philosophy, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Committee administrative work such as meeting minute taking and ensuring their website is up-to-date has been a challenge, especially during the pandemic.

That’s why Essery is eagerly anticipating Colwood council’s decision on a motion Coun. Cynthia Day plans on making, which would direct city staff to help provide those services to the committee.

IACDI’s meetings and events are always open to the public, and information on how to participate is available on the City of Colwood website, with the most up-to-date information usually found most easily on the IACDI Twitter account.

READ MORE: Victoria’s aging park washrooms must be accessible by 2030 as substantial work needed


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Justin Samanski-Langille

About the Author: Justin Samanski-Langille

I moved coast-to-coast to discover and share the stories of the West Shore, joining Black Press in 2021 after four years as a reporter in New Brunswick.
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