Published On Mon Apr 4 2011
Donna Jodham won her case on behalf of blind and partially sighted web-surfers last November. The court ordered the federal government to make all its sites accessible within 15 months.
If our right to know is at the heart of this $300-million trip we’re taking, let’s make sure we’re asking the right questions on the way to the ballot box.
The motion of contempt that felled Canada’s 40th Parliament centred on the right of the bill payers – that would be you and me – to know how much we would pay for fighter jets, crime bills and corporate tax cuts.
Here are a few other costs worth thinking about as the campaign picks up steam:
- The cost of not having a strong, cohesive national accessibility act to speed provincial and municipal efforts to level the playing field for Canadians with disabilities.
- The cost of not having a cohesive federal housing policy that bolsters the efforts of cash-strapped municipalities to provide safe, affordable, appropriate housing.
- The cost of abandoning leadership that ensures everyone is included and can contribute their efforts to building strong, viable communities.
We live in a country that has, on paper, an enviable charter of rights and freedoms. It promises us all – and that includes people with disabilities – the right to freedom from discrimination in every aspect of life, from the classroom to the workplace.
We live in a country that backs the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
(un.org/disabilities). It underscores the fact that people who move or communicate or process information differently from the majority are active and valued members of society. As such, they are entitled to inclusive schools, job markets, affordable housing and transportation systems.
We also live in a country whose federal government has spent years, not to mention millions of dollars, fighting a request to make its web sites accessible
to those who are blind so they can apply for jobs or passports the same way as the sighted majority.
Donna Jodhan made the request, backed by expert opinions that the technology is easily available and affordable. Ottawa fought right up to the Supreme Court.
In November, the court ruled in Jodhan’s favour, ordering the Feds to make all their websites accessible within 15 months. The Government has appealed the decision.
If we continue to support a system that reinforces barriers rather than dismantles them, we are short-changing ourselves, depleting our social capital and
squandering the rich and diverse talents of people of all backgrounds and abilities.
Instead of a strong, cohesive national accessibility act, we have years of federal downloading, a divestment of leadership and resources that continues to breed exclusion.
A national housing policy could help those who too often must choose between nutritious food and rent. Poor nutrition contributes to physical and emotional stress, cutting people off from communities.
Families that include someone with a disability are among the most at risk. Caring for loved ones at home adds up to millions in unpaid labour. But they get no thanks from Ottawa.
Instead, as social policy expert Michael J. Prince notes, their needs, like those of others with disabilities, are relegated to the farthest margins when it comes to substantive inclusion.
I’ve talked before about Prince and his latest book, Absent Citizens: Disability Politics and Policy in Canada (University of Toronto Press).
He believes Canada needs to “mainstream disability into public policy and administration.” He believes we need to build national statistics, an “inclusion index” and budget statements that commit to improving lives for disabled people.
There are almost five million Canadians with disabilities. The cost of not addressing their needs is certainly as worthy of attention as the cost of fighter jets.
Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays.