A movement is underway to make a Canadians with Disabilities Act a priority in the 2015 federal election.
The Canadian Association for Community Living, Community Living Ontario and other provincial and territorial associations have made the topic part of a five-point plan that speaks to an inclusive labour market, economic opportunity, income security and community access for Canadians with disabilities and their families. This includes the creation and adoption of a Canadians with Disabilities Act.
Specifically, the Act would mandate accessibility standards in federally-regulated programs, facilities, benefits, communications and services. This legislation would be based on principles of universal design, effective participation, and equality of opportunity, and would be a major step in Canada meeting its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Standards would be monitored, enforceable, and reported on to Parliament and Canadians every year by the responsible minister.
To date, the Green Party of Canada is the only party to promise a Canadians with Disabilities Act as part of its platform.
David Lepofsky, Chair of the AODA Alliance and disability accessibility advocate, says a Canadians with Disabilities Act is needed because some of the barriers people with disabilities face can only be regulated by the Canadian government, such as access to federal agencies like Canada Post and Revenue Canada. A number of other services and workplaces need to be regulated federally, including air travel, telecommunications and banking.
“We need to ensure full accessibility and we need the federal government to act.”
The Ontario legislature unanimously adopted the Ontarians with Disabilities Act on October 29, 1998, thanks to a campaign led by Lepofsky and supported by Community Living Ontario, among others. A similar Act became law in Manitoba in 2013. Legislation is also being considered in Nova Scotia and British Columbia.
Lepofsky notes that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act ensure equality for people with disabilities, but in order to enforce those rights, people must sue.
“In Ontario, when I, as a blind person, wanted bus drivers to announce all bus stops, I had to sue the TTC personally.”
A Canadians with Disabilities Act, according to Lepofsky, could also ensure that federal dollars used on infrastructure and to buy goods and services couldn’t be used to create barriers against people with disabilities. Voluntary provincial standards could also be created to address barriers in areas such as education and health care, and provinces could then adopt them without having to create their own legislation.
In addition to being Chair of the AODA Alliance, Lepofsky sits on the Steering Committee for Barrier-Free Canada, a non-partisan group also calling for the adoption of a Canadians with Disabilities Act.
The group has developed 14 principles based on those adopted in Ontario and Manitoba, and they cover all disabilities, barriers and how they can be effectively enforced.
Barrier-Free Canada has been busy reaching out to the parties and their candidates through social media, and Lepofsky says they’re encouraging people in the disabilities community to do the same.
“This is a very close election and it’s a long election campaign, so there’s time. Each of the parties knows that every vote counts, so people with disabilities, their families, their friends and people who care about them need to raise this [issue] with candidates at the door.”
Barrier-Free Canada has developed an election action kit, which is available on their website. They have also started a conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #CanadiansWithDisabilitiesAct.
As mentioned above, the Canadian Association for Community Living, Community Living Ontario and other provincial and territorial associations have committed to raising awareness about the barriers people face, with the development of a five-point plan for the 2015 federal election. For more information on the plan and how to become engaged, visit www.inclusionmatters.ca.