Canadians with Disabilities Act Must Happen Now

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Canadian Flag outside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

I’m sitting back on Cranberry Lake, my former home previous to my quadriplegic acquired diving injury of 2006, like most trying to enjoy the last bit of summer. This time I’m sitting on the other side of the lake, staring across the way to the home I built with my own two hands. I am surrounded by irony, as my life now as a disabled Canadian always seems to be perceived from the other side of the looking glass. In fact, it’s sad to admit, I’m positive I would not have even befriended a person with a disability nine years ago. As a contractor I found it tiring taking the extra steps to ensure what I was constructing would be accessible to those “wheelchair people”.

Now here I sit…

Equality for people with disabilities in Canada has thus far come in the form of broken campaign promises and government cuts or loses of freedoms. During the 2006 election the Conservative Government promised a National Disabilities Act, to date it has not been legislated. In 2007 the Conservatives were presented with the document “From Vision to Action: Building An Inclusive and Accessible Canada: A National Action Plan”  This document was collaborated by over 100 disability groups seeking the same goal; Federal legislation protecting and serving the rights of all Canadians living with a disability. Mr. Harpers government received the document, but that is about as far as it went, that is until they released their new election platform in 2011.

“Here for Canada,” subtitled “Stephen Harper’s Low-Tax Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth”In this new platform they outlined various avenues to increasing the wellbeing of Canadians living with a disability. Some of the highlights included were, establishing a RDSP, strongly supporting the 2010 Paralympic Games and an Enhanced New Veteran Charters Act.

Part of the record that was not revealed in “Here for Canada” were the initiatives to be cancelled by the Harper Government. Deconstructing the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS), which collected data on how a disability affects the participation of Canadians in their communities, was a huge blow to the disabilities community. Next, the Harper Government cancelled the Court Challenges Program (CCP), funding for court cases involving language rights and cases based upon Section 15, the Equality Rights Section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This funding was very important to people living with a disability as it provided them with the means to take human rights cases to court. While funding has been restored for Language Rights, they still have not for the disabled.

Once again, here we all sit at yet another election campaign, eagerly awaiting to hear the promises of tomorrow, and to how things will be different under their leadership. Contrary to the campaigns of the past, many of us believe Canadians living with a disability have waited long enough to hear what each political candidate will provide. Demanding a clear, and consistent Canadians With Disabilities Act (CDA) from each candidate should be heard from every citizen and journalist, nationwide.

Most able-bodied Canadians, do not know that currently there are 4 million people living with a disability, by the year 2030 this number will have risen to 9 million, or 1 in 5 people. This is something that has not come as a great surprise, most knew that with the aging baby boomers this day would come. Contrary to Canada, the United States realized that their citizens with disabilities were not being represented equally, and that they would need to secure accessibility for the future. In 1990 they passed the American with Disabilities Act or the ADA;

“An act to establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability

The American government took the steps to ensure that all their citizens will be treated equal, and to protect the ones who may face discrimination. In 2008, an amendment to the ADA Act of 1990, the ADAAA was passed. The ADAAA makes changes to the definition of the term “disability,” clarifying and broadening that definition—and therefore the number and types of persons who are protected under the ADA and other Federal disability nondiscrimination laws.

The United States passes a law protecting people with disabilities, realizes through two key court cases that some individuals with a certain disabilities are still being discriminated against, and quickly (in political time) make amendments to the original act to ensure this no longer happens. All the while collaborating with various disability rights organizations, thus certifying everyone’s needs would be met. Wow.

As of now, Canadians with a disability face enormous amounts of adversity on a daily basis. Not being able to access businesses due to physical barriers, unable to achieve suitable employment, proper housing and public transportation are just some of the common factors.

Barrier-Free Canada and notable Canadians with a disability like Rick Hansen, CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, along with David Lepofsky, a member of Barrier-Free Canada’s steering committee, chair of the Accessibility for Ontario with Disabilities Act Alliance, are strongly urging government leaders and public supporters to advocate for, and enact federal legislation ensuring inclusion of all Canadians, regardless of abilities.

Conservative, Liberal and NDP leaders have yet to address any organization on their commitment to supporting a CDA. The Green party has stated on record that they will pass a CDA, but has not committed to fulfilling all guidelines developed by Barrier-Free Canada.

People coast to coast can demand for change by;

  • Pressing the parties and candidates in your riding to the passage of a Canadian with Disabilities Act.
  • Visit www.barrierfreecanada.org and register your support for the Canadians with Disabilities Act.

We are late to the game, 25 years behind our neighbors, or fittingly neighbors, to the south. Nevertheless, the time for action is now.

The system is broken, or dare I say… segregated. Ooohhh! That word! Yet this is exactly how current standards are. If only a select group of individuals can access public transportation, while others are left with no options, how would you perceive it? Or cannot enter a building, hail a cab, find their hotel room because there is no braille available. It is a shame, embarrassing, that a country as big as Canada, shrinks for someone with a disability.

Time to lose the stigma, and the phase “special services” in Canada. Although most people with a disability are strong and special people, equality is what’s at heart.

Unfortunately, everyone will experience a disability at one point in their lives. Some were born this way, for others it happens when they’re 30, some are lucky enough for it not to happen until they’re seniors. The point is, whether you believe it doesn’t concern you or not, it enviably will. Like me, are you willing to wait until it does?

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About Blair Williams 1 Article
Provide peer support for newly injured spinal cord injury survivors, promote and support independent living, advocacy for people with disabilities and injury prevention lectures to the youth of Canada

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