Published on: March 24, 2016
The federal budget unveiled this week includes a promise to eliminate barriers for Canadians living with disabilities by introducing a national disabilities act a document advocates have long said is needed.
Organizations that support adults and children with disabilities say several items in the fiscal document, especially the creation of a Canadians with Disabilities Act, signal the Liberal government is committed to consulting people with disabilities to build an inclusive and accessible country.
“We haven’t had a cross-Canada consultation with the disability community in an awfully long time,” said Michael Bach, executive vice-president of the Canadian Association for Community Living, an organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
“We’re hopeful. The budget sends some good messages.”
From a revamped Canada Child Benefit, which increases funds for low-
and middle-income families that have children with significant disabilities, to an investment in the Youth Employment Strategy, with a particular focus on youth with disabilities, Bach said the 2016 budget has left his organization hopeful.
“There’s opportunity here, and that’s what’s new,” he said. “There hasn’t been opportunity to have these national discussions about these issues in a very long time.”
There is currently no national legislation protecting the rights of Canadians with disabilities.
The budget earmarked $2 million over two years for engagement that will result in the introduction of a Canadians with Disabilities Act.
“That commitment is a key signal,” said Jeff Dyer, executive director at Accessible Housing Calgary. “It remains to be seen right now what (the act) will look like, but if it mirrors something along the lines of what we see in the U.S. or Ontario, there’s great hope it will have a levelling effect for people with disabilities.”
In 2005, Ontario introduced the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act and more than 25 years ago, the United States introduced a civil liberties law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Enacted by Congress in 1990, the document acknowledged millions of Americans with disabilities faced discrimination and exclusion in areas including employment, housing, education, transportation, health services and recreation. The act provided a national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities.
In a statement, Rick Hansen, CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, said promising money to the creation of a Canadians with Disabilities Act is a positive step to remove “visible and invisible barriers.”
“An act itself won’t solve everything right away, there are still many physical and attitudinal barriers to find solutions for, but by working together we can start to address this urgent need and make sure that people with disabilities are living to their full potential,” said the Canadian Paralympian, philanthropist and activist.
Dyer said in addition to the money set aside for the act, he’s hopeful about $4 million allocated in the budget over two years for the Enabling Accessibility Fund to support the costs of construction and renovations for improving accessibility.
“It’s a recognition that there are people excluded from basic infrastructure as it relates to recreation or community activities that the government notices and has to make some changes towards,” he said.
Cindy Neufeld with Between Friends, a Calgary organization that provides opportunities for people with disabilities, welcomed the various funds promised in the Liberal budget that will make life easier for people with disabilities.
“We’re pleased (the funds) should make it easier for families to access programs that are in the community to help their children,” she said.
“Having a child with a disability comes with a real economic cost, as well as a social cost, and anything that can be done to make it easier, is great.”