Recognize Canada's missing millions
Greetings! I’m Nico Trimoff, manager of transcription and accessibility services at www.sterlingcreations.ca. It’s the end of the week, almost, and I am going to end it with a very sobering article. All about how Canada treats some of its less fortunate citizens.
I invite you now to read on.
Enjoy your day.
Recognize Canada’s missing millions
The Toronto Star , Oct. 24, 2009
How is it possible for more than 4.5 million Canadian citizens to go
missing? Did they just drop off the map? Did anybody organize a search
Michael J. Prince went looking for evidence that those in positions of power
give any thought at all to people with disabilities when formulating and
assessing policies. He found little beyond empty words.
Vast gaps in public awareness. Vacant promises from governments at every
level. Charitable platitudes from the corporate sector.
It all adds up to almost five million citizens effectively disenfranchised,
relegated to the farthest margins. When it comes to real, substantive
inclusion in policy-making decisions, they are simply missing.
Prince, a social policy professor at University of Victoria, has documented
it all in his latest book, Absent Citizens: Disability Politics and Policy
in Canada (University of Toronto Press). It is a bleak picture of policy
failure that translates into exclusion from workplaces and community
Advocacy groups point out that Canadians with disabilities are more than
twice as likely to live in poverty as those without disabilities. More than
two million lack one or more of the supports they need for daily living.
More than half of children with disabilities do not have access to the aids
and devices they need.
“By ignoring people with disabilities, public and social policy builds
disablement into social structures and social programs,” Prince points out.
Prince also found emerging voices from within the disability community
determined to shed light where it belongs. They are putting to rest old
notions of the disabled as sick, tragic figures struggling heroically to
overcome their shortcomings.
Dignity, worthiness, insight and ability are what it should be about, they
point out. Slowly but surely, they are influencing legislation and
empowering others. But there’s a lot of work to be done.
“By ignoring disabilities as a central feature of structural inequalities in
Canada, social scientists naturalize disability-based inequities,” Prince
Disability is emphasized as being biologically determined. But what about
the role played by a political system, and a society, that constructs
physical and attitudinal barriers rather than dismantling them?
Why don’t we pay more attention to universal design, design that makes
physical and intellectual structures accessible to anyone who moves, or
communicates, or processes information differently from the majority?
“Rather than identifying clients as recipients who are dependent and
labelled ‘unemployable,’ public programs should relate to clients as
individuals, as participants with identifiable skills who desire
independence and often work,” Prince says.
“In addition to providing necessary income support, they should have active
measures to promote training and skills development, employment and
Canada needs to “mainstream disability into public policy and
administration, ” Prince argues. We need to build national statistics and an
“inclusion index.” We need budget statements that commit to improving lives
for disabled people, and we need the media to report on the implications of
budgets and other policies for people with disabilities and their families.
Twenty years ago, there was hope that federal employment equity legislation
would lead the way to a more level playing field in the job market. But
progress under federal employment equity legislation has stalled, Prince
argues. As has progress toward a federal disability law.
Prince believes Canada needs more “positive-action legislation” in contrast
to anti-discrimination legislation that forces disability activists into the
courts to fight prejudicial practices one barrier at a time.
A federal disability act, promised for years by every party of every
political stripe, would be a good start to positive action. But, so far,
nothing has materialized.
On the subject of a federal disability law, the promise of the Stephen
Harper government – as it likes to refer to itself – is “vague, somewhat
muddled and incomplete,” Prince argues.
“If the Harper government is developing an act, then the disability
community needs to engage in that process,” he points out.
Couldn’t agree more.
Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at
Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays. helenhenderson @
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