Engaging in Disability Policy Development and Advocacy with the Canadian State

Michael J. Prince

Canadian Disability Policy Alliance
Meeting of CURA Partners
University of Regina
April 28, 2010

Slide 1

  • What is involved in being a disability activist, advocate or ally for the needs, rights and inclusion of people with disabilities?
  • What are the points of contact and the relationships in policy engagement?
  • Is engagement always a good thing to pursue?

Slide 2

  • To distinguish citizen and community engagement
  • To survey several organizational sites for policy engagement and other methods of mobilization
  • To identify benefits and risks to disability groups of engaging with the Canadian state

Slide 3
Types of civic engagement

  • Citizen-oriented:
  • Participation of individuals as particular persons or family members
  • Two-way dialogues between the state and non-aligned persons, “ordinary citizens” via deliberative processes
  • Community-based:
  • Participation of organizations for individuals, families, groups and networks
  • Forging structural linkages within the movement and with various state locations and policy processes

Slide 4
Benefits of policy engagement

For governments:

  • Acquire information
  • Dispel myths
  • Enhance credibility of policy or service
  • Strengthen public trust in state structures and actors
  • Leverage resources
  • Be seen listening

For community:

  • Expand inclusion
  • Generate experiences
  • Transform stereotypes of people with disabilities
  • Advance reform agenda ideas
  • Build civic capacity
  • Foster sense of citizenship

Slide 5
Models of policy engagement between the disability community and Canadian state

  • Intra-community engagement
  • Cross-sector linkages
  • Political executive contacts
  • Legislative connections
  • Judiciary interactions
  • Public service relations
  • Intergovernmental opportunities

Slide 6
Intra-community engagement

  • Disability-related agencies and groups working within the disability community
  • Forming partnerships and networks
  • Sharing information and other resources
  • Developing positions and visions
  • Applying jointly for funding
  • Considering costs and benefits

Slide 7
Cross-sector linkages

  • Disability groups working with agencies or associations in other parts of the voluntary or the private sectors
  • Forming coalitions:
  • Ad hoc
  • Virtual (and now with “social media”)
  • Permanent

Slide 8
Political executive contacts

  • Disability groups working with cabinet ministers, city councillors/mayors, and their staffs
  • Access points:
  • Episodic events
  • Policy cycles
  • Temporary committees
  • Permanent structures

Slide 9
Legislative connections

  • Disability groups connecting with parliamentary, legislative or council committees and individual members
  • Full citizenship as a political but not a partisan issue
  • E-consultations as online engagement

Slide 10
Judiciary interactions

  • Disability activists, parents, and groups interacting with courts, human rights commissions and other tribunals
  • Mainly individual advocacy before tribunals, with many people unrepresented by legal counsel
  • Recent loss of Court Challenges Program at the national level reduces space for systemic advocacy for constitutional rights

Slide 11
Public service relations

  • Interactions between disability representatives and public servants
  • Sites include:
  • senior officials
  • policy analysts
  • disability issues office
  • program managers
  • advisory committees and workshops

Slide 12
Intergovernmental opportunities

  • Participation by disability group representatives in federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) or (PT) structures and processes
  • Four levels:
  • First Ministers
  • Ministerial
  • Deputy ministers
  • Working groups of officials

Slide 13
Risks of engagement

  • Cooptation/incorporation by the state
  • Fragmentation of the disability movement
  • Displacement of other important activities or issues for a group or sub-sector of the disability community
  • Legitimating individualistic or bio-medical notions of disablement
  • Being labelled as “special interests”

Slide 14
Challenges in facing the state

  • Service contract agencies
  • Fiscal constraints of governments
  • Weak memories and policy capacities in public services as well as the community
  • Inaccessible policy systems
  • Unrepresentative organizations in staff
  • Belated and scripted consultations

Slide 15
The Importance of Being Engaged

  • Enacting our raison d’être as representatives
  • Building momentum and solidarity within the disability community
  • Forging alliances with other social movements and collectivities with shared values and goals
  • Drawing notice, in public spaces, to inequalities, obstacles and unmet basic needs
  • Advancing policy and program claims for inclusion and full citizenship

Thank you

Michael J. Prince
Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy
Faculty of Human and Social Development
University of Victoria

Disabling Poverty and Enabling Citizenship CURA