May 29, 2010
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
A man enters a restaurant in a major mall with his fiancée. They are asked to leave because the restaurant says his wheelchair is a fire hazard.
A woman plans to spend a couple of hours out with friends. Because the ride she has booked to transport her and her wheelchair is 90 minutes late, she can spend only 20 minutes with her friends before she has to leave.
Are people with disabilities discriminated against in this country? You bet.
In principle, Canada has great human rights legislation, both provincially and federally. We have laws on paper that forbid any type of discrimination on
the grounds of disability. In practice, on the ground where it counts, these laws are too often meaningless.
Does anyone, apart from the people affected, care? Perhaps all Canadians might pay more attention if they realized the world is watching. And trust me,
the world is watching.
Stories like the ones above come from Toronto, specifically from the Canadian section of the website of Disability Rights Promotion International
(DRPI), a project developing a system to monitor human rights and discrimination in this country and around the world.
Based at York University, (www.yorku.ca/drpi), the Canadian arm of the global initiative is part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (www.un.org/disabilities),
which Canada ratified in March.
Across the world, DRPI is looking at the rights and access of people with disabilities. Do they have dignity? What are their perceptions of self-worth?
Do they have autonomy, the ability to make choices and decisions affecting their own lives?
Are they treated as equals? Are their disability-related differences respected? Are disadvantages addressed? Are they included in their communities, able to participate fully on equal terms? Are they recognized and valued for their contributions?
Among areas the project will monitor are individual experiences, media, laws and policies.
“We’re trying to get snapshots of where we’re at,” says Sandra Carpenter, project coordinator of the project on individual experience, which has been holding focus groups in Toronto, Vancouver and Quebec City.
And where are we at in Toronto?
The DRPI fact sheet (http://www.yorku.ca/drpi/CanadaTorontoFact09.html) shows rights related to social participation were the most discussed and frequently violated, with interviewees reporting a high incidence of discrimination
(70 per cent), exclusion (70 per cent), disrespect for difference (67 per cent), and lack of dignity (67 per cent).
It found women were more concerned about discrimination and exclusion in social participation while men focused on lack of autonomy. It also found women were more likely than men to report experiences of discrimination, exclusion and disrespect at work.
Reports of denial and violation of human rights were prevalent in all areas examined by the study. These included education, work, income, family life,
social participation, information and communication, health and access to justice.
DRPI says 70 per cent of the people interviewed in Toronto reported the discrimination they faced to the appropriate authorities or took legal action. However, the researchers suggest, the fact that the proportion who took action was large may be related to the fact that most of the group could be characterized as educated and mature.
Disability Rights Promotion International Canada is funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, a federal agency that supports university-based research and training in the humanities and social sciences. It is a collaborative project whose supporters include York and Heritage Canada.
of reaction to last week’s column (http://www.thestar.com/living/article/811567–henderson-finding-the-right-word-to-describe-the-disabled-is-often-a-struggle) on language. Stay tuned.
Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays.