Accessibility in Nova Scotia: StFX Professor Dr. Katie Aubrecht Leads Newly Released Accessibility Act Independent Review

Dr. Katie Aubrecht

The report on the first independent review of Nova Scotia's Accessibility Act is now public, and Dr. Katie Aubrecht, the StFX sociology professor and disability scholar appointed to lead the review, says it was an honour to learn from Nova Scotians working on and impacted by the act. 

“It’s such an incredible privilege to conduct the review, and it’s such a significant responsibility to get it right because the Accessibility Act really matters,” Dr. Aubrecht says. 

“I’m hopeful. I hope people and communities see themselves in the report and that it can mobilize those who are already doing accessibility work or who want to be involved…I hope that the report at the very least can amplify this work.”

The report, which can be accessed in plain language and ASL at, notes that the provincial government is making progress on making Nova Scotia more accessible, but there is room for improvement in various areas including accessibility standards, communications, and engagement.

"The Province is committed to creating a more equitable and accessible province by 2030," Justice Minister Brad Johns, the Minister responsible for the Accessibility Act, said in a news release. "It was important to review the act to make sure it continues to be responsive to the needs of persons with disabilities. I want to thank Dr. Aubrecht for the report and her recommendations. This will help guide us to achieving our accessibility goals into the future."

The review included Access by Design 2030 - the framework for achieving an accessible province by 2030 - and the standard development process.

The Department of Justice is reviewing the report and its 48 recommendations and will provide a formal response and advise on next steps later this year.

The Accessibility Act was passed in April 2017 and requires an external review of the act within four years of its coming into force and every five years thereafter. 

According to the province, significant progress has been made since passing the Accessibility Act, including the launch of the Access Includes Everyone campaign and the development of accessibility standards in education, employment, goods and services, information and communication, the built environment and public transportation. 

Almost 800 people with disabilities, representatives from community organizations, municipalities and other stakeholders affected by the legislation were consulted during the review.

Dr. Aubrecht says it was inspiring to learn the history of the act, and how community members came together to mobilize and bring it into being in collaboration with the provincial government. 

She says historical developments in the province make now the perfect moment for the independent review to come out. 

The report highlights a number of key areas. 

“What we heard from people is that shifting the narrative around disability is vital,” she says, noting that it’s critical to challenge and change entrenched assumptions around people with disabilities, who have much to offer the province and have given so much. 

The realities, perspectives, and aspirations of people living with disability are often invisible or ignored. We need awareness of accessibility barriers, and we need to care and to demonstrate that care by removing and preventing those barriers, Dr. Aubrecht says.   

We also need to work and think intersectionally to confront multiple and intersecting forms of marginalization, she says.  

Actioning plans and commitments and sticking to timelines is also key. If we’re going to have an accessible province by 2030, we need to clearly establish what do we need to do to get there and do it, she says.

Other key messages include the importance of communication, and keeping the public informed about progress on work to make the province accessible; the need for greater attention to accessibility in the areas of healthcare, housing and justice; and the valuable role of recreation, leisure and the arts in creating and sustaining welcoming and inclusive spaces and communities.

Dr. Aubrecht also proudly notes that all members of her review team have some connection to StFX. 

“I was fortunate to be joined by leading disability and accessibility researchers, policy analysts and advisors as team members, many of whom were also connected to StFX. Kelly O’Neil, Lisa Snider and Julianne Acker-Verney are all PhD in Education students in the Inter-University Doctoral Program. Dr. Tammy Bernasky was a postdoctoral fellow with the Spatializing Care Lab at the time, and a former Coady staff, and is now an assistant professor at Cape Breton University. Dr. Emily Reid-Musson is a postdoctoral fellow at the lab and Shala Knocton was a former StFX BSc student. Graduate and undergraduate research assistants had all studied at StFX or worked with the lab, and included Shirley Hodder, Mary Jane Kelly, Jami Horne and Miriam Schroeder. The review provided a valuable embedded experience in community driven participatory policy research.