The District of Saanich on Vancouver Island has opted to merge their BC Government mandated Accessibility Advisory Committee committee with other equity groups. Historically the voice of the disability community has been suppressed by those with louder voices or popular mandates. It's Your Right President, David Willows, recently wrote a letter to the District advising them of the importance of the committee standing along if it is to fulfill its mandate.
Here is a copy of that letter:
January 23, 2023
Mayor Dean Murdock and Council
Corporation of the District of Saanich
770 Vernon Avenue
Victoria, BC V8X 2W7
Dear Mayor Murdock and Council:
SUBJECT: Accessibility Advisory Committee: Intent and Terms of Reference
It is fantastic to see the District of Saanich moving forward on the development of the provincially mandated Accessibility Advisory Committee. The tri-municipal Saanich Peninsula Accessibility Advisory Committee has been operational since the summer of 2022 and has a diverse range of members representing the disability community and a full docket of work to do. This said, I have concerns with the Terms of Refence and description for Saanich’s committee as appear in item H.1 “Aligning Council Committees” of the January 23, 2023, Council Meeting.
The Accessible BC Act mandates that all prescribed organisations have an accessibility advisory committee. The province has identified that disability is underrepresented in the decision-making process to the point of enacting legislation requiring local governments and others to empower the disability community through accessibility advisory committees. In my experience using a holistic “equity, diversity and inclusion” approach proposed for the District of Saanich fails to meet the intent of the required committee and will diminish the voice of people with disabilities. Emphasis in the terms of reference has been placed on broadening the mandate of the committee, however I do not believe that to be the intent of the legislation.
As an example, the Saanich Peninsula Accessibility Advisory Committee has 6 community members selected to represent diversity within the disability community. This committee is a safe place for people with disabilities, their caregivers and service providers to focus on disability access issues, identify barriers and propose real-world solutions. It is critical that an accessibility committee represent the spectrum of disabilities including but not limited to mobility, sight, hearing, learning, cognitive, medical conditions and more. It should also have disability representation from various age groups from students to seniors. Accessibility is a series of complex interrelated systems, not just ticking boxes on a checklist, and requires the full attention of subject matter experts – those who live it every day. Other voices are important, but the legislated intent of the committee must be the priority. A key message that should be taken to heart when considering the advisory committee’s Terms of Reference is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability’s fundamental premise: “nothing about us without us.” When I consider this statement in the context of the proposed terms of reference, I question if the disability community, the impetus for forming this committee, was meaningfully consulted.
Disability rights are often treated as “second class rights” Organizations, through ignorance, budgetary constraints or other reasons routinely try to justify provision of services and facilities with significant disability related access barriers. One need only look to the City of Victoria to see the conflict between holders of disability human rights and people outside the disability community with other priorities. That louder voice led to multiple disability related human rights complaints against the city. If any other rights seeking group is denied access for any reason, it is a major news story. When it is a disability related denial of access it is almost considered routine and there is little if any mention of it. The Accessibility Advisory Committee must be a place specific to the disability community to ensure meaningful advice on disability access remains the priority.
I applaud the municipality’s intent to foster a welcoming community through equity, diversity, and inclusion. The intersection of different rights seeking groups is important, but each group also needs their own space for their specific needs and voices to be heard. In my opinion the Accessibility Advisory Committee must be stand alone to ensure it fulfills its mandate of adequately advising the local government on access and disability related issues.
Thank you for your time and consideration on this issue.
Parent of a child with disabilities