Advocate Joanne MacDonald said regulatory changes announced Monday morning by the provincial government, meant to improve accessibility and encourage inclusion, hit the right notes.
The changes are under existing legislation and can be made without going through the House of Assembly. They include new requirements for more “blue zone” parking, more automatic door openers inside of buildings frequented by the public, additional accessible apartments and more.
The new rules will kick in within two to six months after the point they are gazetted (a process of legal notification). Generally speaking, they will come into effect about six to eight months from now, according to ServiceNL.
MacDonald was in the audience at the Empower disability resource centre, as ServiceNL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh spoke about the changes. The minister said she knows people in the province still experience barriers to equal access to services on a daily basis and the new regulations are part of a government effort to address that.
“I was feeling very buoyed, if I can use that word, listening to what she was saying and I was kind of very pleased with what I was hearing,” MacDonald said.
However, the speech then turned to mention a key piece of legislation — the Buildings Accessibility Act — in place since 1981. The act, as The Telegram noted in its Inclusion Now series earlier this year, has long been discussed by people in the province as requiring in-depth review and replacement.
The minister said a comprehensive review is planned, but more time is needed and more consultation required.
“My stomach hit the floor when she talked about consultations, because I knew we were dead in the water with that,” MacDonald told The Telegram, explaining she feels like the changes announced this week are very good, but she also has a concern they are being used as a means of appeasing the community.
Apart from the legislation, MacDonald said, there remains an ongoing problem whereby rules are not being followed or thought much about in many cases. She offered the example of an automatic door opener being in place at a business, but not turned on, creating a barrier to access.
MacDonald spoke with Gambin-Walsh after the announcement. The minister also said anyone in the province with concerns or with comments on the future review of the act can contact her to convey them at any time.
Jeremy Bryant of Lat49 Architecture, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Architects, was at the announcement. He later told The Telegram architects here encourage clients to look beyond minimum legal requirements and to best practices and user experience.
“But overall I think it’s great they’re opening up the act, and doing a review of the regulations,” Bryant said.
Changes to the Buildings Accessibility Regulations and the Mobility Impaired Parking Regulations, incoming from the provincial government, are many and specific. They include, but are not limited to:
• Need for one in 10 apartment building units to be fully accessible, versus one in 15.
• Addition of accessible van spaces, with an overall minimum on accessible parking of six per cent of all spaces fully accessible, up from four per cent.
• No longer painting entire parking spaces blue, to avoid slip and fall risk.
• Parking fines increased for illegal use of an accessible space, from $100 minimum to $400 minimum.
• Barrier-free (typically lower) counters wherever the public is served.
• Larger accessible toilet stalls.
• Broader turnstiles.
• A new prescribed gradient for access ramps.
• Power doors beyond just the main entrances for buildings larger than 500 square metres.
• Change in height and number of required grab bars.
Anyone looking for more information on a particular regulation, or unsure if or when it applies to them, is encouraged to contact ServiceNL.