Reported by Jessica Patterson
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Up to a fifth of Canadians have special needs, but it’s a segment of the population that is being largely ignored in the federal election campaign, say
advocates for people with disabilities.
“That’s a lot of votes, and it’s kind of interesting that no one has taken that vote seriously,” said Adrian Bohach, president and CEO of the
Bohach said people with disabilities want the same things everyone else wants, but attaining those things is virtually impossible given the level of support most receive from the government.
“They want a house, they want a car, they want to have a relationship, they want to have a future, they want to have quality of life. And, they’re not going
to get that on $1,000 per month, or $1,100 per month.”
Bohach said people with disabilities need opportunity, not just a monthly cheque from the government, and he would like to see more government initiatives to provide workplace opportunities.
“If you can’t compete in the job marketplace, you’re trapped in whatever handout the government (is) going to give you. You’re never going to break out
of it,” he said. “If government invested in supports that would allow workplaces to be accessible, it’s like an investment in the people—by giving them
opportunities rather than seeing them as recipients of services.
Colin Cantlie, vice-chair of the Canadian Hearing Society, says he is disappointed with the promises in the federal party platforms.
“We need to make sure the federal government doesn’t lose sight that the support we’re getting from organizations in our community is so very important to many of us. I find people daily that don’t know where to go when they have a problem,” he said.
“We are not special people, we are just people in the community with different abilities, and we too deserve the respect of our democratic system to where we are included and where our MPs listen to what we have to say.”
A lack of accessibility can make it difficult for some to participate in the election, said Cantlie. People with disabilities may not speak well, may not
hear well, and in many cases, may not be able to get in to specific places because of physical barriers like stairs.
Last year, Elections Canada was ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to make all polling stations accessible
for people with disabilities, after a Toronto man was forced to slide down stairs on the seat of his pants to cast his vote.
Cantlie, who is hard of hearing, said more needs to be done to help people with disabilities participate.
“I think the federal government should make sure all public debates are accessible, including to people with sensory disabilities, people with physical
disabilities,” he says. “That may be an expense, but they’re excluding me otherwise.”
Dan Pagan, who is deaf, is concerned about the lack of focus and attention on issues that hit close to home. The Greek and Roman studies student at the University of Calgary is worried about where he’s going to get the money for American Sign Language interpreters in the future.
“I am graduating soon and I am wondering about what to do and where to go if I need to get extra funding when I’m not a student. Or, will I still get funding
if I end up doing law school in another province?”
Pagan currently receives funding for interpreters through the University Disability Resource Centre,
which receives funding from the provincial government, and provides students with disabilities the opportunities to participate in and accommodate academic life.
Major issues for people with disabilities, outlined by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, include poverty, high unemployment, discrimination and
barriers to equal participation.
In Calgary, some candidates are aware of the issues.
The NDP promises to develop a plan to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD), which was ratified by the Conservative government last year.
Paul Vargis, the NDP candidate for Calgary Centre-North, says his party’s plan would include “mechanisms for collaboration, monitoring and reporting progress, and strategies for achieving such priorities of the disability community as disability supports, poverty alleviation, labour market participation, access and inclusion.”
The party platform says an NDP government would “amend federal bankruptcy legislation to move pensioners and long-term disability recipients to the front of the line of creditors” when employers declare bankruptcy. As well, it would increase funding to the Canada student Grants program, “targeting accessibility for Aboriginal, disabled and low-income students.”
The Liberal platform also promises an action plan for implementing and monitoring the CRPD. In addition, the Liberals promise to address housing needs of those with disabilities with their Affordable Housing Framework.
“People do struggle to find accessible and affordable housing, particularly when they do have disabilities, physical or otherwise. I mention otherwise because I think we’ve had a lack of focus on mental health disabilities,” says Calgary East Liberal candidate
“That’s why I think the commitment to national housing and commitment to having municipalities help identify where their housing needs are most, is actually what’s going to advance long-term employment for people with disabilities.”
In their platform, the Green Party doesn’t mention the words “disability” or “disabilities.”
The Conservative platform mentions already established programs, like the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP)
but fails to bring anything new to the table. Repeated attempts to contact party officials were unsuccessful.