A Voice of Our Own: October 2007

Quarterly Update

June 2007
Volume 25 Issue 4

A Voice of Our Own

Poverty and Disability

During the summer, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) informed CCD that its research proposal, which is titled "Disabling Poverty Enabling Citizenship", was granted funding. SSHRC will be providing CCD with one million dollars of research funding over the next five years to investigate the inter-relationship of disability and poverty and to develop policy options. Yvonne Peters, who is the Chair of CCD's Human Rights Committee, and Michael Prince, University of Victoria, are the lead investigators for this project. The project proposal was developed in partnership with the Canadian Association for Community Living, People First, National Network for Mental Health, National Anti-Poverty Organization, and the Caledon Institute. Work on this project will begin in 2008.

DPI World Assembly in Seoul Korea

In 2002, the United Nations began sponsoring Ad Hoc Committee (AHC) Sessions with the aim of developing an international treaty or convention that will uphold the human rights of persons with disabilities. Within five years, on March 30, 2007, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and accompanying Optional Protocol were "opened for signature" by all Member States of the UN. Disabled Peoples' International (DPI), as an international human rights organization, was been heavily involved in the treaty process, including initial drafting of the text, since the first meeting in August 2002 at UN Headquarters in New York. CCD is the Canadian member of Disabled Peoples' International. Steve Estey, the Chairperson of CCD's International Development Committee, has served on DPI's World Council. As one of the founders of DPI, Jim Derksen, a member of CCD's Human Rights Committee, was asked to speak at a Congress event commemorating the beginning of DPI 25 years ago. Due to prior commitments, Jim was unable to attend the event but he made a video of his comments. To view the video follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8_Qf8xj0wU

Looking ahead, DPI saw vast potential for this new Convention. It also recognized, however, that the challenges are many. Most persons with disabilities live in poverty and were unable to play an active role during the treaty negotiations process. The majority of the 650,000 million persons with disabilities worldwide, of whom 80% live in developing countries, have little or no concept of the meaning of human rights or even see themselves as rights-bearing individuals. Women, children and indigenous persons with disabilities are particularly in need of support. Millions of women with disabilities, for example, continue to be among the poorest and most marginalized persons in the world. They have little, if any, education and/or training and employment opportunities. They are victims of violence and other abuses, unaware of their basic human rights, and have little access to sexual and reproductive health services.

A critical next step is to ensure that persons with disabilities, particularly women, youth and indigenous persons with disabilities, are cognizant of their human rights under the CRPD and involved in active partnerships with governments and other human rights organizations to ensure those rights. The adoption of the CRPD both serves to underscore the need for more knowledge and expertise in this area and at the same time creates a truly wonderful and historic opportunity to do so.

With its 7th World Assembly, DPI sought to engage persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in

  1. discussion of their human rights under the Convention, and
  2. laying the foundation for collaborative strategic partnerships with governments and other human rights organizations focusing on ratification and implementation of the Treaty.

The theme for the September 2007 event, Our Rights, Our Convention, But For All, set the stage for the work DPI is doing worldwide towards ratification and implementation of the CRPD. Organized by DPI and DPI-Korea, the 7th World Assembly was the largest global meeting of persons with disabilities since the CRPD was adopted by the UN General Assembly. The gathering of 2,700 people created the following Declaration, which encourages everyone to play an active role in making the CRPD meaningful for people with disabilities throughout the world.

Disabled Peoples' International

Seoul Declaration

September 8, 2007

There are no human rights to which persons with disabilities do not lay claim. Upon this foundational principle at our last World Assembly in Sapporo, Disabled Peoples' International called upon Member States of the United Nations to adopt a specific international human rights treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Today, five years later, as a result of unprecedented collaboration by UN Member States, the international disability community, our global leaders and our allies, we have achieved this and much more. On December 13, 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol. Negotiated in record time, with record participation, and signed on its opening day by a record number of countries, the Convention reflects our language and vision of disability rights. The Convention is not just about persons with disabilities, it is by us and for us and all of humanity. In other words, our rights, our convention, but for all.

Now, celebrating our achievements as we also celebrate DPI's quarter century of engagement in the struggle for human rights for all disabled people, the time has come to prepare ourselves and our allies for the future and our participation in ratification and implementation of this historic new treaty. We the 2,700 people of DPI gathered here in Seoul for our 7th World Assembly, declare that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as a core international human rights treaty, shall be the foundation for all laws, policies and practices addressing the rights of persons with disabilities. Therefore we call on:

  • All Governments, including the Republic of Korea, to move swiftly and with conviction to sign and ratify the Convention, so that it may enter into force by December 13th, 2007.

  • All States Parties to vigorously uphold their treaty obligations, working with us to breathe life into the words of the Convention, so that its vision may be reflected in the everyday lives of all people with disabilities.

  • All international human rights bodies and mechanisms to engage people with disabilities, so that the standards set by the Convention are fully reflected in their work.

  • All UN agencies to actively include disability and people with disabilities in their programming, so that the international cooperation they promote furthers the objectives of the Convention.

  • All National Human Rights Institutions to promote awareness, knowledge of and compliance with the Convention, so that national-level implementation may become a reality.

  • All Development Agencies to fully utilize the Convention as a tool in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, so that all people with disabilities may benefit equally from full and sustainable development.

  • All members of Civil Society to commit to Convention ratification and implementation, so that we may work in partnership to achieve our common goal of a just and equal society for all.

  • All our sisters and brothers in the struggle for disability liberation to make Convention ratification and implementation a priority in their work, so that together we may finally realize the human rights to which we have always laid claim.

CCD Member Group Updates

British Columbia Coalition of People with Disabilities

Two Victories!

BCCPD has been part of two significant victories, so we are glad to report some good news in this edition of the Voice.

Parallel Transit—The first has to do with the Greater Vancouver Regional District's (GVRD's) custom transit service, handyDART. For more than 3 years, we have worked with the Coalition of handyDART Users (CHU) to convince TransLink that custom transit in the Lower Mainland is not working for people with disabilities and seniors. In June, an Access Transit Plan was unanimously supported by the TransLink Board of Directors. Although we did not achieve all of our goals, significant improvements will be made to the handyDART system. TransLink will be establishing an access office and an advisory committee. It will also implement a centralized system for registration, booking, dispatching and customer complaints that will operate from within TransLink. And, all of the 8 jurisdictional boundaries or zones will be removed and the GVRD will consist of one handyDART zone.

Hepatitis C Settlement Agreement —The second victory is for people who contracted Hepatitic C through tainted blood before 1986 and after 1990. BCCPD has worked with the Hepatitis C Compassion Umbrella of Canada for a number of years to convince the federal government to provide compensation for this group of people. The federal government announced a Settlement Agreement and this group of formerly excluded people can now seek compensation. If you think you may be eligible for compensation from the December 2006 Hepatitis C Settlement Agreement you should contact: Crawford Class Action Services, telephone: 1-866-334-3361,
e-mail: preposthepc@crawco.ca
fax: 1-888-842-1332,
website: www.pre86post90settlement.ca/english/eng_home.htm.

Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities

Two ACCD Projects

ACCD is in the final stages of completing a discussion paper exploring the issues faced by men with disabilities. This paper presents and examines issues raised by men with disabilities who attended an ACCD focus group meeting that explored the unique situations faced by men living with a disability. At the meeting, participants repeatedly returned to three common, and often overlapping, issues: societal assumptions about masculinity, employment, and relationships.

As well, we have just started to develop a standardized, but flexible, best practices template that women's shelters in Alberta can use to better accommodate women with disabilities who are fleeing violent and abusive situations. The template will be based on the Functional Needs Assessment tool currently used by emergency services organizations when responding to practical accessibility issues.

Alberta's Boom is a Bust for Many People with Disabilities

In her address at this year's annual general meeting, ACCD's president Margot Brunner-Campbell commented on the difficulties that many Albertans are experiencing as a result of the province's economic boom. She said, "Living in a province that is experiencing such incredible economic growth will benefit many citizens, but it leaves others incapacitated due to rising costs of living, lack of affordable housing, and soaring energy bills."

Add to this list the number of people left without proper social services due to the labor shortage and the crisis becomes clear. Bob Grief, President of the Alberta Association of Disability Services, commented to the media about the "crumbling" that is taking place within the community-based disability sector. He said, "We know that this government cares about services to persons with disabilities; however, we believe they have not recognized how bad the situation really is."

ACCD hears many first-hand accounts about the impact the human resources crisis is having on the disability community. Every week we receive letters and hear stories about the difficulties people with disabilities are facing as they try to have their personal care and health needs met. One member shared that she doesn't don't know if a care attendant will arrive to help get her out of bed in the morning so she can go to work. "The gravity of the situation on the lives of people with disabilities is enormous," says Bev Matthiessen, executive director of ACCD. "Something must be done now."

In response to the crisis, a number of community-based human services organizations have coordinated the "Who Cares, Alberta?" campaign. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the human resources crisis in the social services and to seek political leadership to address the issue.

The "Who Cares, Alberta?" organizers invite individuals and organizations to show their support by visiting the campaign website (www.whocaresalberta.com). On the site, you can:

  • Sign up for news about the campaign so you can learn more and find out how to get involved
  • Send an e-mail to the Premier and your MLA to tell them you support this campaign
  • Add your stories to the site, on how this crisis affects you or someone you know
  • Help promote the campaign by forwarding the website url to others "Who Care".

Urban Alberta Taxi Commissions Increase Accessibility

The City of Edmonton's taxi commission has recently awarded 35 licenses for cabs that will be accessible for persons with disabilities. At the same time, Calgary expects to have more than 100 accessible cabs on it streets by the end of the year. The rate for using the vans will be the same price as any other cab and each company is required to have at least one van available to its customers at any time.

Alberta Policy on Parking Placards

Alberta's policy on parking placards was updated in January 2007. Under the policy, individuals are eligible for parking placards if they are unable to walk more than 50 meters, as approved by a certified medical professional (physician, occupational therapist, or physiotherapist).

The policy updates allow an individual with a permanent disability to renew his or her placard by self-declaring that his or her condition has not changed. These individuals will not require a medical assessment to renew their placards. As well, the placard application form has been revised to enable certified medical professionals to identify that an applicant has a permanent disability that will not improve within the next five years.

Alberta's Lobbyists Act

In March 2007, the Government of Alberta introduced Bill 1: Lobbyists Act. In an effort to increase government transparency, this Act outlines the government offices that not-for-profit organizations can communicate with freely and when their communications are subject to oversight.

Much of the communication currently taken for granted between not-for-profit organizations and government officials with respect to legislative, program, and policy development and administration will be affected by the proposed legislation.

The Lobbyists Act stipulates that

  • Employees of an organization are considered to be organization lobbyists if they communicate with a public office holder on behalf of the organization to influence decision-making.
  • Not-for-profit organizations will need to put appropriate policies and procedures in place to keep track of all lobbying activities.
  • Not-for-profit organizations must identify contributions of $1,000 or more that have been received for lobbying activities.
  • Not-for-profits must establish internal systems to ensure reports are filed on time.
  • The senior paid person must register and report for everyone in the organization who qualifies as a lobbyist.
  • The senior paid person is liable to penalties and fines up to $200,000 for noncompliance with the legislation.

ACCD is concerned that the Act might affect our ability to carry out our work and to engage effectively with the government. Together with 160 other organizations, we have signed a written submission, developed by the Muttart Foundation that challenges the value of the Act. ACCD also supported the Muttart's verbal presentation to the Standing Committee on Government Services. Highlights of the verbal submission include:

  • Charities, as a matter of law, exist to provide public benefit and should not be treated in the same way as commercial or professional interests. The same holds true for many not-for-profit organizations. Those voluntary-sector organizations which receive money from the province do so to improve the quality of life of a community and/or to deliver a mandated government service. Adding an administrative burden of the type proposed by this bill is unwise and unreasonable. And size does not matter. In this sector, larger organizations are as overworked as smaller organizations, particularly in the current labor market situation. There is no excess capacity in charities and public-service not-for-profits.

  • It makes no sense to draw a distinction between an activity of a volunteer and an activity of a staff member of a voluntary-sector organization. Boards of voluntary-sector organizations that have staff operate through their staff. The boards issue instructions and staff carries them out. Many people who work in the voluntary sector also volunteer. When we speak to an MLA or official about a general matter involving the voluntary sector, are we doing so as paid employees of our organizations, or as a volunteer director of another organization? And why does it matter?

  • The "associated persons" rules are confusing and impossible to implement for a voluntary sector organization. They will result in people refusing to serve on boards of directors, and could create chaos amongst coalitions that serve the public interest.

  • The appointment of people from the voluntary sector to committees or task forces by the province would create a nightmare scenario. If a Minister appoints us to a task force because of our knowledge about a certain issue, we suddenly become a public official. Can our staff speak to us about the issue? Can our Board of Directors? Do we have to report that we are talking to the other members of the committee?

  • Because the rules proposed in the Lobbyists Act differ from the political activity rules that apply to registered charities, the proposed legislation would create a huge administrative burden as charities would have to record activities under three different regimes - this bill, the Income Tax Act and related policies and the Federal Accountability Act.

  • We take no comfort from the idea that things may be eased by regulation or rulings and interpretations by the Commissioner. The uncertainty around that and the lack of ability to have input into those decisions do nothing to ease the sector's concerns. If relief is to be given in one or more of the ways listed in our submission, those provisions should be written into the bill, not left for later.

To access the full submission, contact Bev Matthiessen at bev@accd.net.

AISH Employment Initiative

Alberta Seniors and Community Supports has recently made improvements to the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped Program (AISH) for recipients who are able to work. Changes include reporting employment income annually, or more often, if desired and ensuring that there are no claw-backs until the year after you send information to the Canada Revenue Agency for income tax purposes. As well, resources are now available that will help recipients attain their employment goals. These resources include:

  • Additional financial assistance for specific one-time or ongoing employment and training expenses over and above the monthly living allowance
  • Assistance with child care costs for dependent children, including lunch hour supervision at school
  • Assistance with the costs related to establishing a new home if you or your co-habiting partner have to move for work
  • Employment training programs

Alberta Disabilities Forum Projects

ACCD is the host agency and an active partner of the Alberta Disabilities Forum (ADF), a coalition of forty not-for-profit disability organizations in Alberta. ACCD representatives participate on ADF's low-income working group, its health working group, and its continuing care working group. As well, we are involved with ADF in creating fact sheets on transportation and housing to raise awareness about disability issues during the upcoming municipal elections. The Fact sheets will be distributed to ADF's 40 member organizations that will in turn send them out to their members to be used during candidate forums. Some of the other exciting projects we are currently involved with in our ADF partnership include:

  • A draft of Health Working Group's Access to Medications for Albertans with Disabilities information brief has been completed. Once it has been reviewed by the ADF membership and revised, it will be presented to the Minister of Health and Wellness, the Honorable David Hancock, to use in the provinces ongoing pharmaceutical strategy. This paper outlines the difficulties that people with disabilities in Alberta have when accessing health services and supports, particularly medications. The results of ADF's Access to Medications survey are used to support the points raised in the document and recommendations are made for ways to enhance our right to access medical treatments.

  • In January 2007, ADF's Continuing Care Working group completed a position paper outlining issues associated with the ability of people with disabilities to live independently in their homes, to live in supportive living situations, and to access adequate care in long-term care facilities. The paper has been distributed to the Regional Health Authorities, Continuing Care Leader's Council. This Council has recently set up an advisory committee and invited three members of the Continuing Care Working Group to join the Council and have a role in ongoing consultations.

  • ADF's low income working group is in the final stages of revising a position paper entitled The Importance of Annual Increases in the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped Benefit Rate.The paper acknowledges the value of recent increases to the AISH benefit amount, but it also encourages the government to implement annual increases to cover increased costs in housing, food, clothing, medications, transportation, and other necessities. Alberta's economic boom means that prices are soaring, and "the AISH program must be designed to protect people with disabilities from the impact of these rising costs." The position paper will be presented to Cabinet Policy Committee in November and distributed to Alberta's 83 members of the legislature.

Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities

Promoting A Disability Income Program

It is time for a change! The Voice, along with a number of other organizations has been working with government to see that persons with disabilities who have to rely on social assistance for an income, be moved into a separate program that would be more fitting to a person with a disability.

Currently, in Saskatchewan, 77% of the people presently on social assistance are people with disabilities. In a survey sponsored by the Disabilities Income Committee (DISC), people with disabilities described some of their concerns. First of all, their desires were modest. The two most essential "wants" were that they could not purchase clothing and travel to visit family. These two "wants" could be arguably needs, particularly when they are dependent on social assistance long-term.

Some of the basic needs that people with disabilities could not afford were: food; dental care; non-prescription medications and supplies that they need but are not covered; clothing; laundry money; recreation; rent; home repairs; furniture; communication devices; and cleaning supplies.

Many people said they had to regularly depend on family, friends, food banks and charities to feed themselves adequately.

Because so much time and energy is spent working to have their basic needs met, "wants" are not at the forefront of their minds. This perhaps was the clearest example of a "welfare mindset", where people who are on assistance long-term begin to internalize the messages told to them about not deserving more. Many people also expressed guilt when asking their income security worker for more to meet their needs. They must always go with "cap in hand" even when their needs are legitimate and minimal.

We, as an organization, have not done our job in getting the message out to people in general about the situation of the "deserving poor" in our society. Many of these folks have and had no control on being disabled, but because of a lack of "political will", which we are told is the case by department officials, a separate income program for people with disabilities is not on their "radar". Therefore, we would like people in communities across Saskatchewan to be made aware of the situation. The 77% of people with disabilities who have to rely on social assistance for their livelihood and have to continually hear that they are "lazy welfare bums" has got to stop.


Manitoba Taxicab Board Public Hearing Presentation

In July, the MLPD challenged a proposed 20% tariff of fare increase by the Handicab Van Taxicab industry. Our argument was one of financial hardship to riders with disabilities. A modest victory was achieved for riders with disabilities. The Manitoba Taxicab Board ruled the rates would increase by 6.6% only. Our comments to some of the extra charges levied in addition to fares were listened to and most charges were removed. Notably, there would be no extra charges for carrying groceries; no additional charge for trips on Christmas Day; and removal of the punitive double charge for unbooked trips past midnight.

Access and Accommodation Issues

Over the summer our fairly new downtown arena complex which is quite accessible, rose to a challenge brought by one of our members to make a slight accommodation to main floor concert seating, commonly called the moshpit. The suggestion was to construct a 3 - 4 foot high platform with an access ramp on the floor of the centre to allow persons with disabilities who are wheelchair users a better view of concerts from floor level, and experience the excitement generated by the moshpit. The MTS Centre felt this was a doable project and plan to construct two removable platforms for the use of patrons with disabilities making their concert going experience more pleasurable!

We received numerous complaints about a new Health Care Professional assessment form recently in use by the City's Handi-Transit. We deemed it far too intrusive in its questioning of home and personal information, going well beyond what is necessary to assess eligibility for Handi-Transit. We sought a legal opinion, and it was determined that some of the questions appear to seek disclosure of more personal health information than is actually required in order to determine the applicant's eligibility for Handi-Transit, and does constitute discrimination under Section 9 of the Human Rights Code. It was also determined that as Handi-Transit is an accommodation, the new form discriminated as it failed to make reasonable accommodation for the special needs of any individual or group under the clauses of the act that relate to disabilities.

Human Rights Code Challenge of Discrimination Against the Province of Manitoba

Our case involves a severely disabled man living in rural Manitoba who resides with his parents. He receives Income Assistance and Respite funding, however, because he lives with his parents, they receive a lower rate of financial assistance for his care than if he lived in a residence or elsewhere in the community. Our case, supported by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, and the Public Interest Law Centre, asserts that the Human Rights Code prohibits differential treatment of an individual or group on the basis of family status. The basis for the complaint is the significantly lower rates for room and board support provided under EIA regulations when the individual is residing in a home, approved or licensed facility owned by a relative. We are hoping this case will be dealt with by Spring, 2008.



During AEBC's biennial Conference in Victoria, BC in May, which focused on universal design, Mr. Robin East of Saskatoon was elected AEBC's sixth President.

Resolutions adopted focused on fighting poverty, accessible elections, preserving human rights protection, and AEBC's role in providing services.

To read the text of all of this year's Resolutions, visit:


In conjunction with CCD's AGM and National Council meetings, John Rae participated on a panel at a national Transportation Forum which examined the current state of transportation in Canada. He raised a number of old and new barriers in Canada's transportation system, including the need for adequate space on airplanes for guide dogs, the problem for guide dog users to get rides from taxis at airports, the dangers of the hybrid automobile, and the introduction of onboard flat screen entertainment systems on a growing number of airplanes.


John Rae presented AEBC's "Dangers of the Hybrid Quiet Car" paper at the 11th International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons (TRANSED), held June 18-22, 2007 in Montreal under the theme "Benchmarking, Evaluation and Vision for the Future".

This major international Conference also included presentations on all modes of transportation - air, rail, inter-city bus, ferries, and included some presentations on travel and tourism. It provided an excellent opportunity to make contacts and offer a consumer perspective on a variety of important transportation topics.

To read the paper, please visit:


On Sunday, June 10, 2007, John Rae presented two papers at the Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology (FICCDAT), including "Boomers Aging With Vision Loss: Public Attitudes Are Key," available on the AEBC website. Our goal in appearing was to offer a consumer perspective to this Conference comprised largely of service providers.

AEBC's National Secretary Asked to Present at AER Conference

Marcia Cummings was asked to talk to the Ontario Chapter of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) at their workshop in Waterloo on September 8, 2007. She spoke about the added independence offered her by her Trekker, one of the few accessible GPS units available.


The LTADP has been up and running for just under two months. The four Navigators who are all blind or partially sighted have interviewed over five hundred applicants and facilitated the acquisition of approximately 480 devices at a total cost of $234,563.40 as of Sept 11. There are still about fifty applicants who are either waiting for an assessment or have not yet decided which device will best meet their needs. All the applicants will receive a follow up call from their Navigator to determine their satisfaction with the program and the device, and to provide support or referral if required. The most popular devices have been Daisy players and portable video magnifiers. A list of devices and where to get them will be posted to the AEBC website at the conclusion of the program which is anticipated to be by the end of the year. There will be a report of the pilot's findings which will be submitted to the BC Government and it is hoped that these findings will lead to the development of an ongoing provincial assistive devices program based on this consumer directed model.

For more information about the AEBC LTADP contact the Navigator Coordinator, Linda Bartram at: (250) 485-0275 Lindabartram@cablerocket.com

National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS)

NEADS Equity through Education Student Awards: A Call for Applications

OTTAWA, September 20, 2007 - The National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) is now accepting applications for the NEADS Equity Through Education Student Awards Program. These awards are being offered to encourage full access to post-secondary education for persons with disabilities enrolled in undergraduate, graduate or professional degree programs at recognized Canadian universities, or in certified diploma programs at a Canadian college. Four outstanding applicants, who meet the criteria of the program, will be receiving an award in the amount of $3,000 to support the costs of their tuition and student fees.

Funding for these awards is provided by BMO Capital Markets Equity Through Education Program, a charitable initiative aimed at creating a more diverse workplace by offering educational opportunities to people who are most in need of support. In May 2006 NEADS became one of four Canadian recipients of donations from the second Equity Through Education trading day. At that time, NEADS announced the Equity Through Education Student Awards program.

"This award program is the first of its kind in Canada, created to celebrate overall excellence among students with disabilities in all aspects of post-secondary education. We are particularly proud of our first group of award recipients, as we feel they embody the very best qualities of academic and community involvement. We look forward to another group of outstanding applicants in this year's competition" said Mahadeo Sukhai, NEADS President.

For more information on the program please contact the NEADS office: National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS), Rm. 426 Unicentre, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B6, tel. (613) 526-8008.

Community News

Ryerson University


Employees with disabilities from RBC advise Ryerson University researchers on informal learning for corporate success

Toronto, Oct. 4, 2007 - Employees with disabilities are skilled practitioners of learning at work, say researchers in a report released today from Ryerson University's School of Disability Studies.

"Until now, social science researchers have known very little about people with disabilities as learners in mainstream workplaces, particularly in corporate environments," says Associate Professor Kathryn Church, lead researcher for the three-year study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada. "With RBC as an active partner, we studied the learning strategies that RBC employees with disabilities initiate and develop in the workplace. What did they need to know in order to be successful in this professional and competitive industry?"

Church and her co-authors Catherine Frazee, Melanie Panitch, Teresa Luciani and Victoria Bowman of Ryerson University interviewed 75 participants working at call centers, and human resource and information technology centers in Toronto, Vancouver and Moncton. The researchers hosted focus groups with employees who self-identified as disabled, as well as people who are co-workers and managers.

"What we've uncovered here is what I could call "disability savvy," adds Catherine Frazee, one of the co-researchers of the study and co-director of Ryerson RBC Foundation Institute for Disabilities Studies Research and Education. "Our data confirms that employees with disabilities are persistent and ingenious in balancing the complex demands of working in the corporation."

The report, Doing Disability at the Bank, challenges other corporations and organizations to consider the diverse work of learning that disabled employees accomplish even as they attend to the performance of their jobs. It makes visible the telling, hiding, keeping up, waiting, teaching, networking and light-hearted negotiating that disabled employees do every day.

Key findings include:

Working from strength
RBC employees told the researchers they were proud of their work and enjoyed working at the bank. They were also supportive of the organization's actions towards more inclusive environments for employees with disabilities.

Doing Informal Teaching
Researchers found that, in addition to learning, employees with disabilities are continuously engaged in teaching their colleagues how to relate to them - and to issues of disability more broadly. This work is done informally (and invisibly) in the ebb and flow of daily encounters between individuals.

Keeping It Light
Employees with disabilities view humor as a workplace resource. Study participants told the research team that they often make jokes, even at their own expense, in order to ease other people's discomfort about disability. "Keeping it light" helps them assert their needs without being overly confrontational.

"The future of workplace accommodations is in the almost unexplored terrain of social interaction," concludes Church. "One of the implications is that managers need to be strongly facilitative of these arrangements. Their human skills are vital to professional success for employees with disabilities."

In response to the study, RBC is working on an action plan to implement some of the findings. "This kind of research is invaluable in helping organizations better understand how to support employees with disabilities. And most importantly - to take action," says Jim Westlake, RBC Group Head Canadian Banking. "Individuals with disabilities have developed creative solutions to address challenges, leverage their abilities and contribute to organizational goals.

At RBC, we have strengthened our workplace accommodation processes and practices; increased opportunities for networking and informal knowledge exchanges amongst employees and enhanced the recruitment processes with individuals with disabilities." Some examples include: establishing a person with disabilities employee resource group (REACH); staffing a full-time Workplace Accommodation Advisor position and delivering web casts to managers relative to their role in creating a more inclusive work environment for employees with disabilities.

The study, Doing Disability at the Bank: Discovering the Learning/Teaching Strategies Used By Disabled Bank Employees, is one of 12 studies associated with the research network, The Changing Nature of Work and Lifelong Learning in the New Economy.

Copies of the Public Report can be downloaded from the Ryerson School of Disability Studies website at www.ryerson.ca/ds.

New Web Site

The Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), has launched a new website: http://www.un.org/disabilities. The website in English is complete, while the new website in Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, and Russian will be launched in early 2008.

Spoofing Winnipeg Handi-Transit

The Winnipeg Independent Living Resource Center has produced a new Handi-Transit spoof video, which is posted live on YouTube.com. Please click here to view - HandiTransit Part A and HandiTransit Part B.

Tools for Life Conference Expands in Second Year
By Tarina Bambrick
Valley Disability Partnership Society

Open to persons of all ages and abilities, the second annual Tools for Life Conference is scheduled for Friday, October 26 at Horton High School, Greenwich, Nova Scotia. The conference theme is Overcoming Barriers: Making living, learning and working easier.

Six hundred people attended the successful inaugural event last fall. "It's a valuable resource to anyone with a disability or health challenge, their family members and caregivers," says Dwayne Compton, honorary chair of the 2007 Tools for Life organizing committee.

This year's conference has grown to over 150 exhibitors and presenters with a province-wide focus. It offers strategies and solutions, best practices and innovative approaches to assisting people of all ages in three key areas: wellness and independent living, literacy and life-long learning, and employability and career.

Mr. Compton coordinated the conference last year for Valley Disability Partnership Society in conjunction with the Technical Resource Centre of Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre and the Community Education Division of Annapolis Valley Regional School Board.

The conference looks at four demographics - children, youth, adults and seniors. For educators and health care workers it's an excellent chance for professional development.

A quadriplegic since 1983 as the result of a hockey accident, Mr. Compton is often questioned about disability issues. "People want to know how to get information on various disabilities, where to go and who to talk with. Now I tell them to come to the Tools for Life conference because it's all about awareness, information, and networking."

There will be more exhibitors this year and a larger variety of presentations including a wealth of health information, demonstrations on guide dogs, innovative computer technology, self-managed care and accessible transportation.

A new addition this year is the Assistive Technology Lab. Conference goers can explore a wide range of assistive technology tools in the areas of literacy supports, communication and adapted living aids as well as computer systems.

Keynote speaker for Tools for Life is Valerie White, chief executive officer for Nova Scotia Seniors' Secretariat. She will be joined by The Honorable Judy Streatch, Minister of Community Services.

All exhibits and sessions are FREE. The conference runs from 9 am to 4 pm. To ensure session preferences, participants should pre-register. For further information contact Valley Disability at (902) 679-7469 or go on-line to www.toolsforlife.nsnet.org.

Dis-IT Research Alliance Releases Findings and Tools for the Community

Personal computers, the Internet and other kinds of information technology (IT) are often heralded as a great liberator for people with disabilities. That's primarily because IT offers new ways of doing things such as working, learning, shopping, etc. that have been inaccessible.

In reality, however, IT has contributed to improved accessibility in some cases, but much IT is itself inaccessible, creating more exclusion rather than inclusion. Telephones, web sites, Interac point-of-sale terminals, on-line government consultations, airport check-in kiosks, and on-line courses at universities and colleges are just a few examples of the wide range of IT products and services that are not inclusive of the requirements of people with disabilities.

For the past four years, CCD has been a partner organization in the Disability and Information Technologies (Dis-IT) Research Alliance. Led by Deborah Stienstra of the University of Manitoba, and featuring many of Canada's foremost authorities on IT accessibility, Dis-IT has been studying how to ensure that Canadians with disabilities can make use of emerging information technologies and participate in the knowledge-driven new economy.

In October Dis-IT began to release reports on its findings as well as a variety of fact sheets and other practical documents to assist various communities to "mobilize" (or make use of) the knowledge developed by Dis-IT. The findings and documents are available on the Dis-IT website: www.dis-it.ca

Some of the things Dis-IT's research looked at include:

  • retail and public services (bank machines, Interac point-of-sale terminals, airport check-in kiosks, ticket dispensers at movie theatres and parking lots, etc.)
  • eLearning (online courses and materials that colleges and universities provide over the Internet)
  • eDemocracy (governments and disability organizations using the Internet to consult with citizens/members and developing policy)
  • workplaces (how Canadian employers are using technology to create accessible work environments for workers with disabilities)

Some specific projects included:

  • developing a tool to evaluate the accessibility of bank machines, airport check-in kiosks, and other retail and public service technologies
  • testing cell phones and Pocket PCs as wireless remote controls for operating inaccessible Interac terminals
  • evaluating the accessibility of two online consultations conducted by the federal government
  • developing a website on disability policy in Canada in collaboration with representatives of CCD and other Canadian disability advocacy organizations
  • surveying students, professors and post-secondary IT specialists about the accessibility of online teaching tools used at Canadian universities and colleges

Dis-IT's practical knowledge tools include:

  • a fact sheet of tips about how disability advocacy organizations can use the Internet and other information technologies to develop policy, mobilize their members to action, etc.
  • a series of fact sheets on telecommunications policy, an area where new technologies offer great potential for improved accessibility, but business trends and the federal government's plan to de-regulate the industry threaten the potential for more inclusive telecommunications
  • a policy brief to help governments conduct electronic consultations that are accessible to all Canadians

Dis-IT researchers also edited a special issue of an international academic journal called The Information Society. The special issue presented a variety of perspectives on accessible and inclusive IT for the journal's audience (mainstream IT scientists and policymakers), including an article by April D'Aubin about CCD's rights-based approach to information technology accessibility, as well as other articles by academics and business consultants.

Dis-IT would like to thank CCD for its support over the past four years, including providing office space and administrative support for Gary Annable (Community Co-Director) and for Laurie Beachell's work on the Steering Committee and the eDemocracy research theme. While funding for the Dis-IT project is now finished, the networks created and the results will continue to help to shape inclusive and accessible IT development and policies.

Council of Canadians with Disabilities

926-294 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3C 0B9
Phone: 204-947-0303
TDD: 204-943-4757
Fax: 204-942-4625
Toll Free: 1-866-947-0303
Email: ccd@ccdonline.ca

A Voice of Our Own

is produced through the resources provided by Human Resources Development Government of Canada.

(Articles appearing in "A Voice of Our Own" may not represent positions held by CCD)