Full Citizenship, full stop

In the Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard writes, "The fundamental issue is citizenship: If our commitment to rights and equality is real, then the disabled need to be full citizens, meaning they have an equal opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of community life." In 2015, the Prime Minister instructed the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities to develop legislation to make Canada accessible for Canadians with disabilities.

Mr. Picard’s call for full citizenship could not be more urgent and timely. The Hon. Kristy Duncan, Federal Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities is set to introduce Federal Accessibility Legislation in the current session of Parliament, and MPs are about to face this issue head on.

For the past year, the Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada, an umbrella organization comprised of 16 National disability organizations, has been consulting with Canadians about what this new law should include.

What have we learned?

We’ve heard that people with disabilities face many different kinds of barriers: physical, institutional and, most especially, attitudinal.

Across the country there has been a call for the legislation to address these barriers in a broad and holistic way, ensuring that Canadians with all types of disabilities can enjoy their citizenship rights.  Ultimately, our priority is that no one with a disability be left behind by legislation that is necessarily sweeping, as we address communication, electoral, education, employment, transportation, and employment access.

Air travellers who use mobility devices report that it is not unusual to arrive at their destination with a wheelchair so damaged that it is unusable. As wheelchairs tend to be customized to meet the specific needs of a user, renting a replacement is an inadequate stopgap measure. They are looking for accessibility legislation to require the federally regulated modes of transportation to provide improved customer service.

Unlike sighted Canadians, voters with vision impairment cannot independently verify that they have marked their ballot correctly. Accessibility legislation could amend the Elections Act to allow for accessible alternatives to the paper ballot.

For Deaf Canadians information is not readily available in their first language, ASL/LSQ. They have recommended accessibility legislation make sign language an official language in Canada. New Zealand, and several other countries have already taken this step. 

An enormous barrier across the country is socio-economic: a disproportionate number of people with disabilities live in poverty. Until the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) is made refundable, low income Canadians with disabilities are being driven further into poverty paying for the basics - technical aids, adapted computer technology, and other goods and services that are necessities of life when you live with a disability.  Like the GST, the DTC could be converted to a refundable credit equal to the maximum current value of $2,000 per year. (The $2,000 value includes the current federal amount of the DTC and an assumed average provincial/territorial amount.) Everyone eligible for the DTC should get the full credit regardless of their income or employment status. A refundable DTC would extend compensation for the extra costs of disability to those eligible living in poverty.

As we have travelled the country its been made clear that expectations are high for Canadian accessibility legislation; we have been waiting for this since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), and Canada’s recent ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for Canada to create a legislative framework to remedy well-known barriers and prevent the emergence of new ones.  Federal accessibility legislation can make a marked and immediate improvement in the lives of Canadians with disabilities by improving access to job, facilities, services and other opportunities under federal jurisdiction.

Under the leadership of a Prime Minister who presents himself as a progressive advocate for equality and accessibility Canadians with disabilities are being failed.  Surely the time has come for full citizenship for Canadians living with a disability, and this new legislation provides an important opportunity to help realize that goal.

Steven Estey
Alliance Co-Ordinator
Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada