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British Columbians with disabilities worry reopening will undo accessibility gains

Last Updated Jun 25, 2021 at 1:50 am PDT

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Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux says some things shouldn't be reversed when BC returns to 'normal' after the pandemic

She says our old 'normal' was actually inaccessible for a large part of the population

She says we've made huge strides in allowing virtual health care, work from home options, and curbside pickup

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — There’s a lot of excitement about returning to ‘normal’ as B.C. starts to open up but for some people living with disabilities, it’s cause for concern.

The world has become a lot more accessible during the pandemic — from virtual work and health care, to increased delivery services and at-home entertainment.

But Surrey South MLA and Opposition Critic for Accessibility & Inclusion, Stephanie Cadieux, says people have been asking for these options for years.

“It’s interesting to just see that we know how to do it, and we can be flexible, and we can shift. But we’ve only shifted because non-disabled people needed those things,” she says.

COVID-19 restrictions have separated British Columbians from their families, caused financial distress, and created physical and mental health strains, but Cadieux says these “are part of the norm for people with disabilities.”

“I would argue that advocates in the community and individuals have been arguing and highlighting these issues for years without much action. Yet, during the pandemic, we shifted almost overnight, to find solutions to these problems.”

So as COVID cases decrease, vaccines are distributed, and restrictions eased, Cadieux says people with disabilities are fearful of the important changes they’ve been calling for will be scaled back because the general public doesn’t need them.

“If we stopped doing some of those things we’ve changed, if we stop allowing work from home options, if we stop recognizing that Zoom and web-based platforms for working are essential to allowing people with disabilities to continue to contribute and to actually get into the workforce, for example, or we eliminate curbside pickup options or delivery services for prescriptions … we’re actually going backwards in terms of inclusion,” she says.

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Cadieux says that it would be a big mistake, adding 20 per cent of people in this province identity as having a disability that affects their daily lives..

“Especially when 20 per cent of the population in British Columbia are identifying as having some disability that affects their daily life,” she says.

“The pandemic has disproportionately affected people with disabilities in a negative way, but there have also been these positive advancements,” Cadieux says, adding ensuring these changes stick around should be a priority for businesses and governments.

“We need to make sure that we recognize that the problem is not that accessibility is unrealistic. Accessibility is being selectively applied to matter only when it matters to non-disabled people. And what we have to recognize is that people with disabilities are a large part of our population, a growing part of our population, and a population that actively wants to and should be able to contribute.”

– With files from Nikitha Martins