Working Towards Leaving No One Behind: International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The United Nations has declared December 3rd of every year as the International day for the observance of Persons with Disabilities.  Previous articles for Social Connectedness have highlighted the importance of this recognition for so many around the world, with the need for observance and understanding continually growing year after year. Coined “the world’s largest minority,” there are currently over one billion people living with disabilities. To truly understand the impact of that figure, it equates to 1 in every 7 people on earth living with a physical or mental impairment. 

With a lack of understanding of many disabilities, and adequate services for them, this huge global demographic is subjected to a number of obstacles that able-bodied individuals are not. Generally, this population has to contend with poorer health, lower education, fewer economic opportunities, and higher poverty rates. Opportunities for true connectedness are also lacking for disabled individuals, as they are among the most vulnerable to episodes of social exclusion. Low social participation rates can be attributed to all of the aforementioned obstacles – particularly aspects of poverty, employment and transportation.

For the 2017 edition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the U.N. assigned the theme of transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all, which falls under the scope of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With this theme, they emphasize the need for governments, disability representative organizations, and both public and private institutions to work together to form a “team” to ensure inclusive living conditions for everyone, regardless of ability.

According to the U.N., the obstacles facing people with disabilities can take a variety of forms, “including those relating to the physical environment, or those resulting from legislation or policy, or from societal attitudes or discrimination.” Here we will look at an example of a legislative hurdle as it relates to the rights of the disabled. Happening now in Canada, a major immigration barrier is being described as not only “inhumane” but also a breach of both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A medical inadmissibility rule that is currently practiced by the Canadian government is being called out publicly by disability groups including The Council of Canadians with Disabilities. As it stands, the current provision “bars immigrants with disabilities from settling in Canada on ground that they could place too much demand on the country’s medical system.” This particular piece of legislation is deemed “discriminatory” and “outdated” by advocates, and it seems Canada’s Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, agrees.

Toronto Star Immigration reporter, Nicholas Keung, reports that in the last three years, 1,429 immigration applications were rejected for medical reasons, including physical or mental disability, on the grounds that their particular care would exceed the average Canadian’s annual health care needs. Loree Erickson, an American disability advocate, tells Keung that Canada is being “hypocritical,” claiming to embrace accessibility, diversity and equality, and yet regularly excludes individuals with disabilities from the opportunities that the country happily provides to most immigrants.

The U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, pledges to “leave no one behind.” Canada’s immigration rule potentially barring disabled people from a life here is the exact opposite of this pledge in action. Live-in caregiver Amalia Loyzaga immigrated to Canada in 2008 from the Philippines and recently had her permanent residency application denied because of her daughter’s mild autism. York University tenured professor Felipe Montoya had his family’s permanent residency application rejected because of his son’s Down Syndrome. They were eventually granted “relief from inadmissibility” but not until Montoya and his family had to return to their home country of Costa Rica to appeal the decision.

These cases are extremely distressing for the families affected, as it threatens their livelihood and sense of stability, which are so very important when caring for disabled individuals and fostering supportive networks. True social connectedness and inclusive community participation is negatively impacted when families are separated or forced to leave because of the physical or mental incapacities of loved ones – a situation that is beyond their control.

Minister Hussen is putting into motion plans to change this legislative practice effective in the new year, stating “It’s simply not in line with our government’s policies with respect to moving towards an accessibility agenda, but also with…how Canadians are increasingly of the opinion that we should be more inclusive as a society.” A full report from the parliamentary immigration committee with recommendations for changing this policy is expected in 2018.