You are here:

SYSTEM FAILS BLIND CANADIANS: A CONSUMER PERSPECTIVE

Date: 
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Notes for remarks by:
John Rae, President, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians/ L'Alliance pour l'Égalité des Personnes Aveugles du Canada

At the launch of:
"An Unequal Playing Field: a national study on the economic, employment, and social needs of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted."

Ottawa, November 2, 2005.

The Report, "An Unequal Playing Field: a national study on the economic, employment, and social needs of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted," represents an indictment of the entire blindness system in Canada!

This Report presents an up-to-date picture of what living with blindness in Canada is like today.

The results of this study come as no surprise to members of the AEBC! Over 350 consumers participated, and the report outlines the poverty, discrimination, exclusion and isolation that is a part of the lives the bulk of Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted still face every day.

Clearly, government has failed to show the leadership we have the right to expect. Canada’s neo-liberal economic model has failed the vast majority of blind persons who want to work. The community has found it far too easy to shirk its responsibility to serve all members of the community by assuming the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) provides all needed services. CNIB has tried to be all things to all blind Canadians. And blind consumers are yet to come together as we must.

The most damning point of the Report is the glaring income disparity between us and other Canadians. The study determined, and I’m quoting here, "we found that 19% of all adult consumer participants reported gross annual incomes of $10,000 or less, and for the working age participants, more than one quarter reported gross annual incomes of 10,000 or less (28.3%).” Almost half, 48%, of all adult consumers in the study reported gross annual incomes of $20,000 or less, regardless of marital or family status, and this was fairly consistent across the two age groups.

Attitudes remain a major barrier. Too much of today's social policy dialogue still reflects the attitude that the "problem" of disability is within the person rather than in the system. The AEBC believes we need inclusion in schools, communities, employment, and recreation and in all other areas of typical community life. To move toward that direction requires us to recognize that disability is a "natural part” of the human experience and not an aberration. Instead of trying to "fix" people with disabilities, we need to ensure we have the tools that are needed for success in today’s technological world.

The research is in, and clearly, action, and not more research is desperately needed, and needed now! Here are some specific actions the AEBC believes are urgently required:

  • A publicly-funded, publicly operated, portable Assistive Devices Program, similar to what is currently available in Ontario, must be available throughout Canada;
  • The Prime Minister should call together business, labour and consumer leaders to discuss new approaches to employment for all Canadians who have a disability;
  • Greater enforcement of the employer's duty to accommodate is required by all human rights commissions across Canada;
  • Expand public transportation to reduce isolation;
  • Library services for the blind and partially sighted should be provided through existing mainstream services with leadership through the National Library of Canada, and with greater involvement of publishers.
  • Rehabilitation services should be included in the Canada Health Act and added to Medical services plans in each province.
  • All new programs must be sensitive to the needs of First Nations peoples and individuals whose first language is neither English nor French;
  • Increase the capacity of consumer organizations to enable them to play their rightful role; and
  • All new research on disability issues must include a consumer organization as a meaningful partner before any new research project is funded.

Moving past old and outdated thinking that people with disabilities are incompetent or are simply unable to succeed, we need to presume competence. As any study in human behaviour will attest, people blossom with greater expectations and choices.

When we expect a person to learn, expect her to succeed, and expect her to make decisions about her life, she will! She may need assistive technology, supports, or accommodations to accomplish her goals, but so do we all. This is a small price to pay for healthier and more enlightened living.

Instead of relying upon "special services" which isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities and their families from the mainstream, we must find the help and assistance we need from the natural supports and generic services in our communities. This does not mean we do not also need some specialized services, like learning braille or independent mobility, but the bulk of services for blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians should be provided through regular community service providers in integrated settings. It does not have to be expensive it only requires a shift in attitude and involvement!