By Eden Beschen
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017
I should begin by saying that I do not have a disability. I don’t have to worry if facilities or activities will be accessible when I am making decisions about what to do. People don’t look at me and automatically assume that my life must be restricted, or that I can’t do things to the same degree as everyone else.
These are but a few of the barriers that many individuals with disabilities face every day. And while I can’t speak for them, I can recognize that their voices need to be heard. I can raise awareness of the need for individuals without disabilities to support and work with those who do to create a more inclusive society.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go and available data reflects that. For example, in 2011, 33 percent of individuals in Canada aged 25 to 34 with severe or very severe disabilities reported that they had been refused employment in the last 5 years because of their condition.
In the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability, about 2.1 million women and 1.7 million men 15 or older reported having one or more disabilities that limited them in their daily activities. Men and women with disabilities were more likely to be living alone and more likely to be a lone parent compared to those without disabilities. These men and women also reported significantly lower household income, with the women earning on average $25,690 and the men $27,170.[i] This reflects the tragic truth that working age Canadians with disabilities are nearly twice as likely to live below the poverty line compared to those without disabilities.[ii]
In Canada, the disability community proudly adheres to the principle of “nothing about us without us.” In paying respect to that, last year, Carla Qualtrough, then Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, asked Canadians what accessibility means to them (the results of which can be read here). When asked which areas deserved the most attention in terms of improving accessibility, the two most frequent answers were employment and the built environment. While laws and regulations do exist in both areas, more needs to be done. The Rick Hansen Foundation’s Access4All Program created an accessibility checklist that I strongly encourage everyone to use and keep in mind.
Marie Ryan, former chairperson of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), wrote in 2013 that people with disabilities in Canada are “the ‘population in waiting’— waiting to be seen as an integral component of the fabric of our country.” This is why it is crucial for all of us to take steps to help make Canada a more accessible and inclusive place for everyone. We have a duty to ensure that people with disabilities are no longer waiting for their rights to be realized. And together, we can help hold organizations, governments, and individuals accountable, making sure the voices of the disabled community are heard.
[i] Burlock, Amanda. “Women with Disabilities” in Women in Canada: A Gender-Based Statistical Report. May 29th, 2017. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14695-eng.pdf
[ii] Crawford, Cameron. “Looking Into Poverty: Income Sources of Poor People with Disabilities in Canada,” Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society. 2013. http://www.ccdonline.ca/media/socialpolicy/Income%20Sources%20Report%20IRIS%20CCD.pdf