Be Barrier Free on International Day of People with Disabilities

Today is International Day of People with Disabilities, a yearly event run by the the UN. Each year has a theme, and this year’s theme is inclusivity

I’m currently involved with two organisations, Barrier Free Canada and Barrier Free BC. They both have the same aim, but at different levels of government, to get established disability legislation, a Canadians with Disabilities Act and a British Columbians with Disabilities Act. We’re hoping that the CDA will be part of the throne speech tomorrow, but I fear that the BCDA is a long way off.

I suggest that wherever you are in the world you check out the websites of the different Barrier Free groups as it might give you an idea of where we are. It’s all very grassroots, non-partisan and totally volunteer led, on a budget of zero dollars but a very rich in goodwill!

Why do we need legislation, you might think? This is also something that politicians at all level of governement ask, particularly those who believe in a “lean” government – government with a “small g”, it might be said.

For me, there are two separate trains of thought.

The first is more philosophical, I guess. I believe that it is the duty of governments to raise the tone in any discussion, any expectation, of how we live. If our leaders aren’t prepared to set the example that people with disabilities deserve the same access to all facets of life, why would the rest of the country follow? It’s quite simply lead by example.

You might then think that we already have this, in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is entrenched in the Constitution, or the Canadian Human Rights Act. This leads me right into my second point.

My second point is the nitty gritty. The Charter and the Human Rights Act contain no standards  that must be followed, other than in the broadest terms. It doesn’t define what accessible transportation, for example, looks like. It doesn’t say that buses must announce the stops as they approach, or that bus stops themselves should be accessible to blind people. It doesn’t set standards for paratransit – my nemesis, HandyDart. Without these standards, every person with a disability is potentially fighting an individual battle with all levels of government, all over the country.

If you have gumption to stick with something all the way through to the Human Rights Commission, it’s an individual act. The sum total of all of these individual acts does not add up to change for everyone.

Okay, you’re now thinking, I get that. Why do we need provincial and federal legislation – is that not doing the same work twice?

Simply, no. Again, it goes back to the Constitution, and how the responsibilities of the provincial and federal government are divided. Postal service? Federal. Education? Provincial. Transportation across provinces? Federal. Transportation within provinces? Provincial. For all areas of all things that people with disabilities do, there must be legislation at both provincial and federal levels of government.

The US has had a federal Americans with Disability Act (ADA) for 25 years. Ontario has had the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act for 10 years. We are not reinventing the wheel – just trying to catch up with it!
Poster from the UN advertising the event


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