Sask. introduces act to make province more accessible for people with disabilities

Saskatchewan Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky speaks at a news conference at the provincial legislature on Nov. 16, 2022, accompanied by an ASL interpreter.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky speaks at a news conference at the provincial legislature on Nov. 16, 2022, accompanied by an ASL interpreter. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan government introduced The Accessibility Saskatchewan Act, which aims to prevent and remove barriers for people with disabilities, Tuesday.

The act stems from a 2015 recommendation in the Saskatchewan disability strategy.

People with disabilities currently have to file human rights complaints when they face a barrier. Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky said he hopes this proposed act will create a smoother process for eliminating impediments.

"There is existing legislation that deals with the building codes of human rights, however there are gaps, " Makowsky told reporters today.

If passed, the act would see the government establish accessibility standards and regulations in seven areas: the built environment, information and communications, employment, transportation, service animals, procurement and service delivery.

Makowsky said accessibility improvements could include making curbs on sidewalks safer for people with disabilities, making sure websites have large enough print and adjusting aisles in grocery stores.

If the act passes, the government will have two years to come up with accessibility plans. It would establish a committee to advise the government on the development of accessibility standards. At least half of committee members would be people with disabilities or from disability organizations.

CBC
CBC

Christall Beaudry, CNIB Western Canada's vice president, said enforcement of the act would be key. CNIB, previously called the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, is a non-profit organization that supports blind people across the country.

"We really want to see that inclusion happens for our communities across the board," Beaudry said. "They've been left out, they've been marginalized."

The act would also establish an office to receive complaints from the community and provide yearly public reports on the province's accessibility progress.

Makowski said fines could be given out to entities who don't obey regulations, but that the government is prioritizing education.

"There is a mechanism for fines, but that's sort of a last resort," Makowski said.

CBC
CBC

Nairn Gillies, the executive director of Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, said agencies that don't follow regulations should be fined.

"You need to have legislation that says there's teeth in this, that says you must, there is a duty to accommodate, fix it, or there's a $5,000 fine."