Letnick: Improving quality of life for everyone

Accessibility 2024 was created after extensive consultation with people with disabilities, their families, caregivers and community groups.

Our provincial government is working towards a big goal—and this time I’m not talking about job creation, growing the economy or even one of my favourite topics, health care.

I’m talking about our goal of making B.C. the most progressive province in the country for people with disabilities.

Our 10-year action plan, Accessibility 2024, was created after extensive public consultation with people with disabilities, their families, caregivers and community groups.

One of the significant themes that emerged was a need to modernize the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act.

Guide dogs and service dogs are crucial for many British Columbians who live with a disability.

They may help individuals who are visually impaired to navigate city streets, or provide assistance with things such as hearing loss, epilepsy, diabetes or post-traumatic stress disorder.

They are not only much-needed by their masters—they are well-loved as an important member of the family.

The problem was that the legislation pertaining to those vital relationships was outdated.

So the new legislation, which came into effect Jan. 18 addressed a number of issues brought to our attention by people who rely on service dogs and guide dogs to improve their quality of life.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the new Act is that it makes it clear that discrimination is unacceptable, giving certified guide or service dog handlers access rights that are equal to those enjoyed by all members of the public.

This is supported by a number of improvements to the Act including expanded tenancy rights, which now include strata properties.

What’s more, once a dog is no longer certified as a working animal for reasons such as age, injury or disease, it may now be certified as ‘retired’ and able to remain in the home with its handler.

Other improvements to the Act centre around public access rights for certified dogs in training, as well as a recognition of service dogs in addition to guide dogs.

In addition, the Act features the requirement of a high training standard, and the establishment of a more robust decision-making process for certification.

Handlers seeking certification for guide and service dogs that were not trained by an accredited school will now be able to have them tested by a neutral third party, the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

Finally, compliance and enforcement have been strengthened within the new legislation, bringing increased peace of mind to service dog and guide dog handlers.

In addition to these important legislative changes, our government is working on a number of other significant initiatives as part of Accessibility 2024 in areas like income support, employment, accessible housing, accessible Internet and many more.

A big thank-you goes out to everyone who participated in the public consultations leading up to these changes.

Together with you and your families, members of the community and the local business sector, we are working to dissolve barriers and build stronger, more inclusive communities for people with disabilities.