A Voice of Our Own: October 2008

Volume 26 Issue 4

In the Quarterly Report, you will find an update on key activities undertaken by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD):

Building an Inclusive and Accessible Canada: A National Action Plan on Disability

Presentation by Marie White CCD Chairperson to the 21st World Conference of RI Quebec City (August 25th, 2008)

Federal leadership

Looking at the agenda of the Government of Canada over the past two years I have reached the conclusion that "Social Policy is Homeless." And I will say it to whoever might listen. It appears that Prime Minister Harper's vision of the Federal Government is that smaller is better and less is more. For Canadians with disabilities who have traditionally looked to the federal government for leadership on addressing the historic disadvantage faced by Canadians with disabilities this is not good news.

You see the interesting dichotomy around this is that no one disputes the fact that Canadians with disabilities remain marginalized, massively unemployed, lacking supports and disproportionately living in poverty. No one disputes the fact that Canadians with disabilities are likely to face discrimination on a daily basis. No one disputes the fact women with disabilities and persons with disabilities from other minority or marginalized groups often face even more daunting challenges. Yet at a national level and, in most provinces, we still have no clear plan in place to address the substantive inequities faced by Canadians with disabilities.

Canada is a rich country, a country that prides itself on its health care system, social safety net and human rights record. Yet while other sectors of Canadian society have benefited from this wealth and prosperity it remains difficult to point to any recent initiative that addresses the disadvantage of Canadians with disabilities in any real way.

In Unison

Ten years ago Canadians with Disabilities were buoyed when the federal government did engage in a process and produce a document called In Unison, which identified the key building blocks for persons with disabilities—employment, adequate income, and disability-related supports. These building blocks properly addressed in a national action plan would enable social, economic, cultural and political citizenship and create an accessible and inclusive Canada.

Those two concepts—access and inclusion—we need to always use those terms together. We don't just want access. We want inclusion. We can often get in the door, participate in a program, present our views—but are we included? Are we able to do what our neighbors and friends and family members can do? I think we have to start talking about inclusion because it is an all-encompassing concept and it speaks to where we want to be. And where do we want to be?

I believe we want to be in a world where we can live where we want to. We can go to our neighborhood school. We can have careers that we want; careers for which we have skills and abilities. We want to have aspirations. We want to be equal.

CCD had hoped that In Unison would serve as a catalyst for engaging federal/provincial/territorial governments in strategic thinking from which would emerge an Action Plan to address disability issues in Canada. But after a decade it is clear to CCD that the state of federal/provincial relations is fragile and continuing to crumble and will not bring forward anything of substance.

In fact, the Government of Canada is now committed to bringing forward legislation that would prohibit federal spending in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Clearly collaboration is out and a smaller role for the federal government is being created.

CCD is not satisfied with this direction as we know that the personal, social and economic costs of exclusion experienced by persons with disabilities are too high to be ignored.

Our National Action Plan

In light of the fact that a collaborative initiative has not materialized at the government level over the last several years, CCD has engaged individuals with disabilities and their families, their groups and organizations and other equality seeking groups to devise a comprehensive National Action Plan on Disability.

To be effective, a National Action Plan on Disability must transcend our traditional fragmented, reactive approach to disability. It must involve comprehensive short and long-range plans and decisive action to create a national environment in which people with disabilities can and do achieve their full potential.

This plan must provide a road map to help policy makers, politicians and interested Canadians advance a national disability strategy designed to address the significant, overarching and interrelated issues which banish persons with disabilities to the periphery of society.

For CCD and Canadians with disabilities our National Action Plan must address four key issues. They are:

  • New initiatives to increase access to disability-related supports
  • New initiatives to address poverty
  • New initiatives to address unemployment
  • New initiatives to improve access, inclusion and full citizenship.

I would like to look briefly at each of these components.

Firstly disability-related supports which remains the critical priority of persons with disabilities across the life span and for some years has been the rallying point for collaborative efforts across the country for organizations and for persons with disabilities.

Without new investments in disability-related supports we cannot be included. We can be skilled. We can be the engineers of the world. We can be the media people, the public relations people, but if we don't have the support that we need to be able to actualize those skills and to do what it is we need to do, then we will not be able to avail ourselves of the opportunities that our country presents to us. In short, we will be relegated to lives of exclusion.

An appropriately targeted investment in disability-related supports can bring change to the lives of people with disabilities as it would assist Canadians with disabilities to participate in early learning and childcare, become educated and employed, live more independently, and look after their families.

Such an investment is the priority of the disability community and is the foundation upon which a comprehensive National Action Plan on Disability must be built. Central to this initiative is a commitment to deinstitutionalization and removing the stigma attached to disability. In no dictionary in this world does institutionalization equate with a safe and secure and welcoming home—and we must never forget the many who remain within the walls of these institutions.

Our national Action Plan calls for new initiatives to alleviate poverty

The poverty of Canadians with disabilities is a national disgrace. Canadians with disabilities and their families are twice as likely to live in poverty as other Canadians and the incidence of poverty among First Nations and Aboriginal People with disabilities is even higher. Too many persons with disabilities live in abject poverty in our prosperous nation.

Existing systems of income support are failing Canadians with disabilities. The Government of Canada must commit to addressing poverty and reforming Canada's income support programs for Canadians with disabilities. A starting point would be to look at how the many and varied income support programs interrelate and serve to keep people in poverty—social assistance or welfare, private insurance, Canadian Pension Plan Disability benefit.

Because disability supports is primarily in the provincial/territorial jurisdiction CCD is urging the federal government to take a greater role in the area of poverty alleviation and income support, thus freeing up dollars at provincial levels for investments in new support services.

A first step would be to make the existing Disability Tax Credit refundable so that it is available to all persons with disabilities and not just those attached to the labour force and ensure that new federal benefits for persons with disabilities are not clawed back by provinces and territories from those on social assistance.

There has been some discussion around a guaranteed annual income for those living in poverty including persons with disabilities. It is an example of an initiative which on the surface seems the magic solution. While I believe it has merit, we must always ensure that in such a program or initiative the floor does not become a ceiling and people are not trapped in a program that keeps them marginalized—just not quite as poor as they are now.

In the area of employment CCD seeks creation of specific targets for the employment of persons with disabilities within Federal/Provincial/Territorial Labour Market Agreements negotiated with the provinces. Currently we have separate funding, which has on occasion been in peril of being cut, that does not touch the true employment and training needs of persons with disabilities in our country.

CCD wants the Government of Canada to become a model employer both in its hiring practices and its accommodation of disability. I want to see persons with disabilities at all levels within the public sector not just front line workers—as we have the requisite skills and abilities to occupy a range of positions. We want a federal government procurement policy that demands accessibility so new technology does not become another barrier to so many of us.

Under the broad area of Access CCD calls for:

  • accessibility regulations for federal transport systems to replace ineffective voluntary codes of practice
  • ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • creation of an Accessibility Design Centre—a centre of excellence on universal design and access
  • and re-establishment of a Parliamentary Committee on the Status of Canadians with Disabilities. For years, the federal government had such a committee and it served persons with disabilities well—as a non-partisan committee it provided us one welcoming venue.


These then are the basic elements of our national action plan on disability—one which would lead us to an inclusive and accessible Canada.

CCD believes that Canada should be a country where all can live in dignity and have equal access to the goods and services of our country. Canada should be a country, where regardless of where you live, there are some comparable basic services for all citizens. Canada should be a country where having a disability does not mean that you will live your whole life in poverty dependent upon family and friends for support.

Social policy cannot remain homeless. CCD believes social policy must be central to the role of the Government of Canada (and indeed governments around the world) so that all can experience the benefits of equal citizenship.

I would like to conclude by saying that I believe that nationally and internationally we have reached a turning point in our evolution. We have come to a place where words are not enough. We have been talking long enough. There have been enough studies, enough promises, it is time for action now. New ways of thinking must be adopted by employers, governments and providers of public services and more generally by society.

We seek parity not charity. We seek inclusion—not exclusion.

The CRPD provides an international framework and it is up to each and every one of us to ensure that in our countries we collaborate and take action on solutions, and implement the innovative social policies and programs which will improve our status as persons with disabilities. We must ensure our lives and contributions are valued.

We must in solidarity push for actions which ensure we are indeed living in a Society for All—and that we are provided the access and inclusion we desire, the respect we demand and the citizenship we deserve by our very existence.

Immigration and Disability: Stephen Hawking Could Never Become a Canadian

by Laurie Beachell, CCD National Coordinator

Once again the issue of immigration and disability has arisen and once again Canadians with disabilities realize that if they had not been born here they could never become a Canadian for the simple reason that they have a disability.

This past summer the Chapman family, accepted in the Nova Scotia nominee program for immigration to Canada, experienced the challenges of trying to immigrate to Canada with a child with a disability. While not able to research all the facts in this case, if the information provided is accurate, then truly immigration to Canada for persons with disabilities is going to remain difficult.

The Chapman family includes a nine year-old daughter with a disability. The Chapman's came to Canada as visitors/tourists and were aware that they would have to leave the country and continue their application for immigration from outside Canada. However because they have a child with a disability, they were first told they could not enter the country, then told they could stay for a limited time period. Their British passports were seized and after about 30 days of being in Canada they were ordered to leave and return to the UK—all because their child had a disability. This case is bizarre. CCD has never heard of the excessive demand clause being applied to individuals coming to Canada as visitors. According to Mr. Chapman, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) told them their daughter had a "lifetime ban" on entering Canada because of her disability. It appears to CCD that Immigration Canada is so concerned with the "excessive demand" clause of the Immigration Act that even though the Chapman family were in Canada this summer as visitors, their application for immigration and the fact they have a daughter with a disability was enough for them to order the family to leave Canada at the end of July this summer. If visitors to Canada who have a disability can be denied, this brings new meaning to discrimination on the basis of disability. Most visitors to Canada carry health insurance and if they required medical services, their health insurance would cover the costs. CCD will continue to keep in touch with the Chapman family and see what transpires regarding their immigration.

What is the history of this issue?

Over twenty-five years ago CCD began advocating for a more open Canadian immigration policy for persons with disabilities. In the 1984 federal election campaign CCD raised this issue in our Challenge Ballot. We asked all candidates to support "Canada making a commitment to the United Nations to accept 50 or more disabled refugees per year." CCD also raised an amendment of the Immigration Act to bring it in line with the Charterand ensure that disability was a prohibited ground of discrimination.

CCD, along with the now defunct Canadian Disability Rights Council, advocated for reform of the Immigration Act in 1991 through Omnibus legislation. At that time the Immigration Act required that applicants for permanent resident status undergo a medical examination to determine if they were suffering from any disease, disorder, disability or other health impairment by virtue of which "they are likely to be a danger to public health or public safety" or whose admission "would or might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demands on health or social services." This advocacy work resulted in removing the specific reference to disability but the "excessive demand" clause was retained.

In 2000 the Department of Citizenship and Immigration exempted Convention refugees and their dependants from the excessive demand clause. They stated "it is inconsistent for Canada to accept that a Convention refugee overseas is in need of protection but treat them as inadmissible because they would cause excessive demands on health services." The Department at the time also stated that "the financial impact on the provinces and territories from these excessive demand exemptions is expected to be relatively small."

The Chesters Case

In 2001 CCD applied for and was granted intervener status in the Angela Chesters case being heard by the Federal Court. Angela Chesters, a German woman who uses a wheelchair, married in 1991 a Canadian citizen then working in Britain. Mr. Chesters in 1994 returned to Canada after getting a promotion. Ms. Chesters applied to immigrate with the sponsorship of her Canadian husband but was denied permanent residency in Canada because she had multiple sclerosis. Ms. Chesters was allowed into Canada as a visitor and later received a temporary minister's permit allowing her to live in Mississauga, Ontario with her husband, but the prohibition on permanent residency remained. Ms. Chesters argued that the Immigration Act breached the equality guarantees of the Charterand ARCH, her legal counsel, took this case to the Federal Court. The Government of Canada tried to settle the lawsuit by offering Ms. Chesters immediate landed immigrant status but Ms. Chesters declined the offer and continued to seek changes to the law. At the same time the Government indicated that they would amend the Act to ensure that the excessive demand clause would not be applied to immigrants coming to Canada to join family members. The Government amendments did waive the "excessive demand" clause for refugees but the amendments for family sponsorship never became law. After an unsuccessful bid to change the law through the Courts Ms. Chesters left Canada to accept a teaching position in Germany. Her husband followed.

The Hilewitz Case

In 2000 David Hilewitz tried to immigrate from South Africa to Canada with his son Gavin who has a mild developmental disability. They were denied immigration and began a challenge of the "excessive demand" clause. The result of this challenge was for the Supreme Court to uphold the excessive demand clause but order that it not be applied as a blanket denial of immigration. Individual assessments must be made to determine whether an "excessive demand" is likely to be placed on Canada's health and social services.

Why Do Canadians with Disabilities Want Reform of the Immigration Act?

  1. CCD believes the Immigration Act, both as law and in its practice, continues to discriminate against persons with disabilities and does not meet the equality guarantees of the Charter.
  2. CCD believes the Immigration Act perpetuates long held stereotypical views of persons with disabilities as being less deserving and a burden on society.
  3. CCD believes that the current law devalues Canadians with disabilities and does nothing to recognize the contribution persons with disabilities and their families can and do make to Canadian society.

CCD calls upon the Government of Canada to undertake a review of the "excessive demand" clause. This review should once again consider whether this clause is discriminatory both in its policy and/or its practice.

The Registered Disability Savings Plan: A new way to save for your future

by Jack Styan
Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network

In December 2008, people with disabilities will have a new way of securing their financial future. A new Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) is being implemented by the Federal Government that will benefit as many as 700,000 Canadians with disabilities.

You qualify to open an RDSP if:

  • You are a resident of Canada
  • You have a social insurance number
  • You qualify for the Disability Tax Credit.

Like RRSPs and RESPs, the RDSP provides a savings tool where your money will be able to grow without having to pay taxes until you withdraw. More importantly, the Federal Government will contribute a Canada Disability Savings Grant to your plan when you or a family member makes a contribution to your plan. The amount of the grant depends on your income.

If your income is below $74,357 the Grant will be three dollars for every dollar you contribute on the first $500 and two dollars for every dollar you contribute on the next $1000. That means if you contribute $1,500, your plan will receive a $3,500 Grant.

If your income is more than $74,357 then the Grant is a dollar for every dollar you contribute up to $1000.

The maximum Grant is $3,500 per year and you can receive up to $70,000 in your lifetime.

Contributions can be made to your plan by you or anyone you know, including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters or even friends. It is important to note that no one who contributes to the plan will get a tax deduction—you get the Grant in your plan instead.

The Federal Government will also contribute a Canada Disability Savings Bond to your plan if your income is below $20,833. The Bond is a $1,000/year contribution for up to 20 years. If your income is between $20,833 and $37,178 per year you will be eligible to receive a partial amount of the Bond. Most importantly, you do not have to make any contributions to receive the Bond.

Your income is your "net adjusted family income", which means it is your and your spouse's income minus deductions combined. Your income will be determined by your previous year's income tax so you need to ensure that you file your 2007 income tax (and every year thereafter).

Withdrawals from the plan is where it gets a bit complicated. There are two types of withdrawals that can be made from your plan: Disability Assistance Payments and Lifetime Disability Assistance Payments.

If you make a withdrawal of any type within ten years of receiving the last Grant or Bond from the federal government, then you must repay an amount equal to the total Grant and Bond that you received in the past ten years. If you don't want to pay the penalty, then you must wait ten years after you receive your last Grant or Bond.

If there are funds remaining in your plan when you pass away, they will be distributed according to your will.

Depending on which province you live in, your plan might affect provincial disability benefits. If you live in BC or Newfoundland, your plan is an exempt asset and you are free to use any income from your plan in whatever way you choose without affecting your income assistance. Other provinces have not yet passed regulations that will permit people on disability assistance to use the plan freely.

How might the plan work? Let's assume that you are a 19 year old student with an income of less than $21,000 per year. You speak with your family and they agree to assist you with payments into the plan. You decide to contribute $1,500 per year for 20 years ($30,000). Your plan will receive a Grant of $3,500 per year for 20 years ($70,000) and a Bond of $1,000 per year for 20 years ($20,000).

You decide to wait ten years after receiving the last grant and bond so you don't have to pay any penalties. You are now 49 years old and you have more than $350,000 in your plan. You will receive $10,000 per year from your plan in your 49th year. This amount will increase each year, and if you live to be 83 you will be receiving over $60,000 per year. In total you will receive more than $995,528 from your plan over your lifetime. Not bad for a $30,000 investment!

If you want more information about the RDSP or if you want to use our new calculator to see how the plan can work for you, visit www.rdsp.com. If you want a more detailed explanation you can sign up for a free tele-learning seminar from PLAN at www.plan.ca.

BC Coalition of People with Disabilities (BCCPD)

Customized Transit for Metro Vancouver

The BCCPD and the Coalition of handyDART Users (CHU) has been advocating for over 4 years for a streamlined service model for custom transit in the Metro Vancouver area. We are very pleased that TransLink has announced it will be working with a single company to provide customized transit across the region. BCCPD will remain closely involved and will be meeting with the proposed provider, MVT Canadian Bus, Inc., to discuss our vision and to listen to their ideas for customized transit.

This new direction, long-sought by BCCPD and others, is the result of TransLink's Access Transit consultation. TransLink responded to the call for a single service provider that would reduce the inefficiencies that resulted from several, uncoordinated providers across the region. MVT was chosen based on several factors, including experience, knowledge and resources, the company's plan to manage the operations, the transition of the region's custom transit services, and the costs involved.

We were also pleased to see that TransLink responded to the concerns of people with disabilities and seniors about maintaining their relationships with drivers—many of whom have worked with clients over long periods of time and understand how to transport people with various disabilities safely and with dignity. Assurances have been made that there will be a minimum disruption in staff.

MVT has claimed it will increase hours of service, improve communication with clients, improve efficiency of trips, and other problems identified in the review process. We think this is a very positive direction that has the potential to address some long-standing problems that affected the mobility and freedom of people with disabilities.

Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities

Community Based Organization (CBO) Summits

The Provincial Government hosted five CBO Summits in September. These gatherings were held to find out what CBO's are thinking; what issues we have; how we can work better with government; and how government can work better with us. The whole process was very impressive and the government heard from a variety of Community Based Organizations who are funded by different Government Departments as well as some that receive no funding whatsoever from the Provincial Government.

What was interesting was the different perspective from the five communities, but some issues remained constant throughout the summits. For example: Core or long-term funding for community based organizations; increased funding, not only to see employees wages on par with the public sector, but also for infrastructure. We also saw another theme, that the CBO sector be valued by public officials. It resonated loud and clear that government staff did not value the CBO sector as it should. It was stated that many people working in the CBO community had as many credentials as officials in the public sector, and that the combined years of experience should be embraced, not ignored. Another common theme was working in collaboration, again, a concept that CBO's have expressed for a long time, but not embraced by public officials.

This whole process was led by Greg Ottenbreit, Secretary to the Ministry of Social Services and MLA for Yorkton. What was also impressive about this process is that the Minster of Social Services attended all of the Summits and listened. We have been told that a report on the summits will be out shortly, and that it will be available on the Saskatchewan Government website.

Saskatchewan Government Enacts Exemption for Registered Disability Savings Plan

In 2007, the federal government introduced the Registered Disability Savings Plan for people with disabilities. The initiative aims to help people with disabilities and families with a child or other family member with a disability provide for their long-term financial security. However, it was not exempt from provincial social assistance calculations in Saskatchewan. As of September 4th, that changed and this will allow those with disabilities or their parents to create RDSPs without having to worry that the assets will be clawed back when withdrawals are made on behalf of the beneficiaries.

Girl Power Camps

The Voice is sponsoring an opportunity for young women (ages 13-21), to come together to participate in workshops designed to empower and encourage self esteem and to participate in developing a resource guide to assist other young women with disabilities. Workshop topics include: self esteem; empowerment; safety; and abuse & dispelling myths surrounding disability.

Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities (MLPD)

MLPD Develops Strategic Plan

During the past several months, the MLPD worked with Jim Derksen who was hired by our organization to lay out a more in-depth strategic planning document. This includes directions to renew and revitalize the organization, ways to involve the membership (and particularly youth with disabilities) in organizational activities to a greater extent and to foster financial sustainability. This plan was approved by MLPD Council in late September, and the document will be submitted to Manitoba Family Services and Housing which requested that the MLPD develop a more in-depth operational plan in order to be considered for sustaining funding. We will be meeting with the membership over the next several months to obtain their feedback on the plan and to recruit their participation in implementing it.

Make Poverty History

We attended an event sponsored by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg (SPCW) related to the Making Poverty History Campaign, which is a Canada-wide campaign to raise the issue of child poverty and to develop solutions to eradicate it. We will also be collaborating with the SPCW on organizing and carrying out a poverty forum. As part of this event, the MLPD will be conducting a session on poverty and disability. We will also be collaborating with the SPCW on an election forum to take place on October 9, 2008.

MLPD Addressing Employment, Poverty, Transportation and Access Issues

The MLPD was one of the endorsing organizations of a letter to the Provincial Ombudsman requesting fundamental changes in administrative policies, regulations and procedures of Manitoba's Employment and Income Assistance program, and we will be meeting with the Provincial Ombudsman regarding this letter. We continue our ongoing work on Handi-Transit and other transportation issues, as well as housing and visitability.

Future Work

We look forward to the next several months where we will focus on the beginning tasks to implement our new operational plan and recruit membership participation for a more vital and responsive MLPD with increased capacity to respond to community issues and needs.

National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS)

NEADS and BMO Capital Markets Equity through Education Student Awards: A call for Applications

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. Up to six 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.

"We at NEADS are very proud of the Equity Through Education Student Awards Program, and our 11 recipients over its first two years," said Mahadeo Sukhai, NEADS' President. "This program is the first of its kind in Canada, and was created to celebrate overall excellence among students with disabilities in all aspects of post-secondary education. Our winners to date all embody the very best qualities of academic and community involvement. We hope that the program continues to grow, and we look forward to this year's crop of outstanding applicants."

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) 380-8065, or go directly to our Equity Through Education Student Awards website: http://www.neads.ca/en/about/projects/ete2/scholarship

The Equity Through Education charitable program was launched by BMO Capital Markets in 2005 to support the notion that gaining an education is a means of improving lives. Funds raised through Equity Through Education are donated to charitable organizations whose mission includes improving access to education and training for bright, deserving people who otherwise might not have the opportunity. To date, Equity Through Education has raised $3.2 million.

Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians

Will the Airlines Ever Learn?

In the last issue of A Voice of Our Own, we reported on a significant victory for all guide dog users traveling on airlines. Well, once again, life isn't that straight forward!

Air Canada sought leave to appeal to the federal court, and on October 8, 2008, the following decision was rendered: "This application for leave to appeal is without merit and is dismissed with costs to Mr. East."

Even when we win a case at a court or administrative tribunal, we may have to go through the appeal process to gain the redress we need. This is yet another example of why the current voluntary Codes of Practice must be given the added force of regulations, so that Canadians with disabilities can live our lives with fewer barriers to overcome. Fighting cases such as this has become so much tougher since the Harper government cancelled the Court Challenges Program. Robin had to find pro bono counsel to help fight this request for leave to appeal. Congratulations to Robin for his persistence.

AEBC Inaugurates Internet Radio Show "Eye on the North"

The AEBC will premier a monthly half-hour internet radio program: "An Eye on the North" on ACB Radio on October 10. This show is dedicated to examining the issues facing blind, deaf-blind, and partially-sighted Canadians. On our premier show, you will be introduced to the AEBC, its history, its successes, and its evolution. The host of An Eye on the North, Albert Ruel, will speak with former presidents, Richard Marion and John Rae, and with current AEBC president, Robin East. The first show will focus on the history and activities of the AEBC.

The program will air monthly, with its first airing on the second Friday of the month, with a repeat on the fourth Friday of the month. The show airs Friday, October 10 beginning at 03:30 UTC, 11:30 pm Eastern, 8:30 pm Pacific and is repeated every four and a half hours throughout the broadcast day, on ACB Radio.

Go to www.acbradio.org, and follow the links to ACB Mainstream. Hope you will tune in and learn more about the AEBC and our work.

The Movie, Blindness

The Movie, "Blindness," released throughout much of North America, has become extremely controversial in the blind community due to how it depicts persons who are blind. Here is what the AEBC had to say:

National Consumer Group of Blind Canadians Condemns the Movie Blindness

October 3, 2008

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians strongly condemns the inaccurate and harmful depiction of what life is like after losing the ability to see offered in the movie "Blindness". "Blindness", based on the Jose Saramago novel of the same name, was released in theaters across North America on Friday, October 3. The film tells the story of the chaos and degradation that ensues when an epidemic of blindness begins sweeping an unnamed city. The blind characters are portrayed as utterly helpless and incompetent, incapable of dressing themselves, cleaning themselves, and orienting themselves to their surroundings.

The AEBC asserts that negative and misguided conceptions about what it means to be blind are largely responsible for the low employment rate, under-education, and high incidence of poverty that so many blind Canadians face in this country.

The fear of becoming blind is second only to the fear of developing cancer.

Many people imagine that becoming blind inevitably means a life of dependency and the loss of self-worth. These are the same messages that will be presented to viewers of the film. Contrary to these misconceptions, blind, deaf-blind, and partially-sighted Canadians:

  • go to school, work, volunteer, and participate in community activities
  • live interdependently with friends, family, and other Canadians
  • adjust to being blind and lead fulfilling lives.

"This film is only going to perpetuate the misconceptions most people already have about blindness. We want Canadians to know that the portrayal of blindness in the movie is inaccurate and based on misunderstandings about what it is like to be blind", says Marc Workman, AEBC's National Secretary.

What many film-goers will not be told is that, with proper training, appropriate services, and freedom from prejudice and discrimination, blind Canadians are capable of participating fully along side their fellow citizens.

"What disturbs me is the distorted picture people are being given. Many will walk away from the film thinking that blindness can be nothing other than a tragedy. We're telling Canadians that this is false", says John Rae, AEBC's First Vice President.

We're asking Canadians not to watch this film. We need help to send the message that these misinformed, inaccurate, and harmful portrayals of blindness are unacceptable. For those that do see the film, we want you to understand that blind, deaf-blind, and partially-sighted Canadians lead active lives and participate in their communities.

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians is Canada's largest advocacy organization made up of blind, deaf-blind, and partially-sighted Canadians speaking on their own behalf. For more information, visit www.blindcanadians.ca.

Marc Workman, National Secretary
Email: mworkman@blindcanadians.ca
Phone: 780-989-5658

John Rae, First Vice President
Email: rae@blindcanadians.ca
Phone: 416-941-1547

AEBC Condemns Killing of Persons Who Are Albino Living in Tanzania

Tanzania is in East Africa. Recent reports published by BBC News tell of the murders of persons with albinism, including children, on the orders of witchdoctors peddling the belief that potions made from the legs, hair, hands, and blood of people with albinism can make a person rich.

People with albinism are being savagely hunted for their body parts.

Official numbers say that 28 persons with albinism have been brutally murdered in the last 18 months. Sources within the albinism community there say the number of murders is much higher—perhaps closer to 60. The youngest victim so far is a 7-month old baby.

There is also evidence now that this practice is spreading beyond the borders of Tanzania. Two persons with albinism were brutally murdered in Kenya, and even more shocking there was a recent arrest of a man in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. The man was arrested because he was found to be transporting the head of a person with albinism. He told police he was bringing it to sell to a businessman, and that he was going to be paid by weight.

The Under the Same Sun Fund is a Canadian nonprofit organization headed up by Peter Ash. Peter is a person with albinism, who is also a business leader.

The Under the Same Sun asks you to visit their website, www.underthesamesun.com to read more about this travesty, and lend your support by signing the online petition.

The AEBC thanks you for your support on this issue.

Ferrets As Service Animals

by Gary Lemke

The relationship between humans and domesticated ferrets has been shown, in many instances, to possess a special bond. This special bonding has consistently been demonstrated in cases of autism, panic disorders, agoraphobia, and various types of seizures, just to name a few areas where ferrets assist their human partners.

Frances and her service ferret Gyno

Frances and Gyno enjoy the outdoors

In August of 2008, the issue of ferrets as service animals came to a head as Frances Woodard was being refused access to Ottawa's public transportation services. Her service ferret Gyno was not allowed on Ottawa's OC Transpo.

City officials were ignoring the fact that Frances's psychiatrist completed the necessary paperwork to show, in her professional opinion, that Gyno was able to detect and prevent panic attacks. This prejudicial treatment was successfully challenged through the support of several community organizations having an interest in service animals and protecting the rights of a person with a disability to public access. The Ottawa ferret community came to support the fact that ferrets can make extremely good service animals and to disprove the myth that ferrets are wild animals among many other misconceptions. Ms. Woodard was represented by Terrance Green, an Ottawa lawyer known to aggressively represent the rights of persons with disabilities and an advocate with Citizens With Disabilities—Ontario.

In researching the issue of ferrets as service animals, it became apparent how common discrimination occurs to persons with similar situations like Frances. People with invisible disabilities seem to face a double stigma with their disabilities being ignored by public officials, in general, coupled with myths about ferrets, both being wrongly viewed.

Ferrets can be caged a good portion of time, but prefer to interact with their humans and to play and entertain. The use of an elevated cage allows a person in a wheelchair to easily clean the cage, litter boxes (ferrets use a litter box like a cat), and to change food and water. A ferret's bedding normally consists of old soft blankets requiring laundering weekly to prevent the associated musky smell of the ferret. Taking the ferret outside, in a harness and leash, is a treat for a ferret, not a required routine as with a dog.

Behind every cloud is a silver lining. In Frances' case, it was the certification of the first two service ferrets in Ottawa and the formation of a new organization. The Service Ferret Society (SFS) is being formed to promote the use of ferrets as a legitimate service animal. SFS intends to debunk the myths about ferrets and assist in the pairing of appropriate service ferrets with their human partners. SFS will continue to assist and defend the rights of persons with disabilities who may be denied their rights and use of a helpful service ferret.

For more information about service ferrets, SFS or ferrets generally, please contact:
Service Ferret Society
Email: info@serviceferretsociety.com
Tel: 1-613-442-1015

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.)