International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) reminds us that our progress has been measured in decades, not days, and that the timetable for making our province accessible takes even longer.
The United Nations declared 1981 the Year of the Disabled. When it became clear that barriers for people with disabilities were not going to be overcome in one year, the Decade of Disabled Persons was proclaimed. So, since 1992 we’ve celebrated the achievements of persons with disabilities and our growing ability to participate in all aspects of life, community, family, school and work. These advances have come about because of the perseverance of persons with disabilities, organizations run by persons with disabilities, our allies and even, at times the will of the governments of the day.
Ontario's accessibility legislation promises accessibility by 2025. While this puts a stake in the ground, it is absolutely clear that we will not be fully accessible by 2025. For example, new buildings are going to be more accessible because they will follow the new Building Code rules, but many renovation projects get around them. Without a requirement to retrofit, it could be another hundred years before all buildings are accessible.
Technology is rapidly advancing, and while it probably has the greatest potential to be an equalizer for persons with disabilities, especially in employment, employers are slow to upgrade systems so that they will be more accessible, and only rarely do they hire people with disabilities. All too frequently, new apps arrive on the market that at best, show an afterthought to accessibility.
While attitudes, awareness and understanding of people with disabilities has increased, this is offset by a fixation on ableism in our society. Health sciences works to eradicate disability by offering genetic counselling to decrease the potential number of children being born with a disability. In fact, most recently, there are comprehensive protocols to ensure a disabled person's rights are protected so they can kill themselves if they want to. Very few people understand what is wrong with that. Due to a pervasive ableist mentality, accessibility and accommodation remain an afterthought. Ironically, my computer’s spell checker cannot even spell “ableism.”
So, this year, on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we celebrate the untiring and unwavering spirit of people with disabilities to prevail, despite centuries of rejection and promises of accessibility way off in the future. When services did not exist – housing, accessible transportation, attendant services, assistive devices – people with disabilities negotiated skilfully and strategically to get them designed.
Here are some names every person with a disability living in Ontario should know: Scott Allardyce, Luke Anderson, Linda Cairns, Sandra Carpenter, Catherine Frazee, Helen Henderson, Pat Israel, Donna Jodhan, David Lepofsky, John Lord, Gary Malkowski, Ron Ross, Fran Odette, David Onley, Bill Owen, Jeff Preston, Peter Park, John Rae, Geoffrey Reaume, Jim Roots, Trish Robichaud, Hazel Self, Judith Snow, Traci Walters, Ing Wong-Ward, Maayan Ziv…and the list goes on.
These visionaries devoted themselves to breaking down barriers, and drew allies into the cause. We have definitely moved forward since 1981, and we continue to do so. But it will take all of us, plus our allies, to create an accessible society that lives out the simple yet essential goals set out in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which will allow all of our citizens to prosper.
- As long as there are waiting lists when more services are needed,
- As long as there are people with disabilities who are unemployed or underemployed despite being able to work,
- As long as transportation remains inaccessible and inadequate,
- As long as people with disabilities live precariously because work, accessible medical facilities, housing, attendant and other services are not available to us...
...We must continue to work together to make Ontario fully accessible!
Recently, Independent Living Canada released "Come Join the Movement," a song meant to attract people to the independent living movement. Listen to the song, read the lyrics, and work together to make Ontario fully accessible in our lifetime.
Together we are stronger.
Pat Seed, President
Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario