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Halifax passes long-awaited accessibility strategy

“Holy shit, we're actually doing stuff!”

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When the province passed the Act Respecting Accessibility in Nova Scotia in 2017, it told municipalities to do two things: Set up an accessibility advisory committee and build an accessibility strategy. Halifax, quite chuffed about having an accessibility advisory committee since 1997, got to work pulling together all the pieces that would make up its mega-doc accessibility strategy, and this week it was unanimously approved by Halifax Regional Council.

The existence of a sweeping strategy for accessibility in HRM is a win for everyone. This plan, like the Integrated Mobility Plan, Moving Forward Together Plan and HalifACT 2050, joins the ranks of HRM’s tenets—sweeping documents that say “we give a crap about doing things this way”—and all future planning, development and spending has to somehow align with that decision.

This is important for 30-year-old Vicky Levack, the past chair of HRM’s accessibility advisory committee, who says to those who scoff at the price tag of accessible development: “How much is freedom worth? You wanna put a price tag on my autonomy, ability to exist?”

The plan gathers up all the things HRM has been doing, should have been doing and says it wants to do, into one place with the promise of completing all objectives by 2030.

Here’s a rundown of all the things HRM hopes to achieve:

• Make Access-A-Bus booking and fare collection available online

• Make a Halifax-wide system for booking accessible transport

• Make all bus stops actually accessible

• Increase awareness around snow removal for folks with disabilities

• Get a fleet of accessible taxis on the ground in 2021

• Make new and old HRM buildings and infrastructure Rick Hansen Gold certified, which means curb cuts, entrances exits, washrooms and more

• Develop a system to audit existing HRM infrastructure for accessibility

• Make sure every sign in HRM is accessible for folks with disabilities

• Train more front-facing HRM staff how to serve people with disabilities to increase the number of spots in HRM summer programs for kids with disabilities

• Make more recreation support staff able to provide accessible recreation

• Make HRM a more accessible employer for current employees with disabilities, and make HRM a more accessible hirer that works with community organizations to create job opportunities for people with disabilities

• Align HRM’s business units with the accessibility strategy goals

• Make municipal promotional materials accessible to individuals with disabilities

• Bring HRM’s websites and web content up to WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standards—something that’s already mandatory by US law right now.

All these actions—and the work it took to line them up and have regional council commit to them—make Levack optimistic.

“Holy shit, we’re actually doing stuff,” says Levack. “This isn’t just a feel-good ‘look how good we are’ thing. There’s some actual actions behind the rhetoric.”

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