"We know that discrimination against people with disabilities is compounded when they are faced with additional forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism and colonialism. We cannot talk about one without addressing the others." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (03 Dec. 2018) — In 1992, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed December 3 as International Day of Disabled Persons, saying the aim is "to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life."
Prior to 2018, Canada had no legislation covering the rights of people with disabilities apart from the Canadian Human Rights Act. People with disabilities in Canada still face incredible barriers. It's not just structural barriers but barriers in employment and wages, in services, in education, and more. This discrimination means people with disabilities face exclusion, poverty and isolation on a daily basis.
Accessible Canada Act passes House of Commons, moves to the Senate
In June, the federal government proposed legislation, the Accessible Canada Act, to identify, remove and prevent barriers for an estimated 4 million Canadians with physical, sensory, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or other disabilities.Bill C-81 is based on the following principles:
"(a) all persons must be treated with dignity regardless of their disabilities;
(b) all persons must have the same opportunity to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have regardless of their disabilities or of how their disabilities interact with their personal and social characteristics;
(c) all persons must have barrier-free access to full and equal participation in society, regardless of their disabilities;
(d) all persons must have meaningful options and be free to make their own choices, with support if they desire, regardless of their disabilities;
(e) laws, policies, programs, services and structures must take into account the disabilities of persons and the different ways that persons interact with their environments, and persons with disabilities must be involved in their development or design; and
(f) the development and revision of accessibility standards and the making of regulations must be done with the objective of achieving the highest level of accessibility for persons with disabilities."
The legislation has passed third reading in the House of Commons and is now being considered by the Senate.
Support for Accessible Disabilites Act
To urge the government to pass the legislation, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) wrote a letter to the Prime Minister.
In the letter, Larry Brown, NUPGE's President, wrote: "Our union is actively working for a future where people with disabilities are able to enjoy the rights and opportunities accorded to all Canadians. However, this does not happen simply by removing the physical barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in our society, but it happens by eliminating all barriers—including all forms of discrimination. We know that discrimination against people with disabilities is compounded when they are faced with additional forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism and colonialism. We cannot talk about one without addressing the others."
A major item is missing from the legislation, though: money. On this point, Brown wrote, "We appreciate the political will that it takes to move this legislation forward, but there will be no change unless secure federal funding is attached. We need to see that with each new infrastructure project funding is built in to ensure mandatory accessibility requirements." As reported in the Toronto Star, while the government announced that it has earmarked $290 million over 6 years to implement the legislation, it is not nearly enough to remove all the barriers that people with disabilities face.
A study paper, commissioned by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living suggests that "a Federal Disability Act is not an end in itself; more appropriately it must be seen as a beginning — a beginning of a comprehensive, cross-departmental, coordinated set of instruments for establishing federal government accountability, responsibility, and intervention to advance and assure the Charter rights of Canadians with disabilities." The National Union concurs whole heartedly with this statement.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE