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Where's Our Trickle?

While neo-conservative theorists continue to loudly tout the benefits of "trickle down economics", persons with disabilities and other equality seeking groups in our communities are wondering when the benefits of this approach will "trickle down" to them?

For persons who are blind or otherwise disabled, we as a group have never known anything but recessionary times and exclusion from the economic mainstream of Canadian society. In the "good ole" days when times were happier, the economy stronger and the overall unemployment rate was lower, these benefits still never "trickled down" to the majority of us. For many, many years, we have focused our attention on removing the many barriers which hinder or prevent us from participating fully in regular community life. Although there is now a trend towards integrating more students with disabilities into regular classrooms, we must never confuse "integration" with true "inclusion." The two concepts are quite different. Simply placing students with a disability into a regular class without needed supports, like textbooks on time, Braille and mobility training is not true inclusion.

While we live in the "information age", there is only a small percentage of information available in alternative formats such as Braille, audio cassette, computer disk or large print--formats that persons who are blind or vision-impaired can access independently.

Many older buildings remain inaccessible to individuals with mobility disabilities, and many others that are said to be accessible offer access only to the service and not the employment areas. Many public transportation systems remain inaccessible, and there is growing pressure on what parallel systems do exist to reduce their riderships and hours of service.

Attitudes have been described as our greatest barrier; and while studies conducted over the past five years indicate attitudes have improved somewhat, further progress remains necessary. Adopting a true nationwide "full employment" program might help to make some tangible dint in our level of unemployment.

While we must continue to work on the removal of old barriers, today, we must also focus on preventing the introduction of new ones. Rapid advances in computer technology, once seen as a possible panacea are now becoming recognized as a double-edged sword. While computers may make communication and research easier by providing access to a wide range of information that was previously totally inaccessible to us, too often these days, software manufacturers release updated versions of software to the marketplace before adaptive technology, required by the blind, is available. As a result, new barriers are created; existing jobs become threatened, and access to new ones denied. All future technology must be developed with all potential users in mind, and employers must refrain from purchasing new software until and unless it is usable by all employees.

Today, the federal government is busy devolving more and more of its rightful responsibilities to the provinces and the private sector. This results in fewer national standards and a patchwork of programs and services from one province to another. These trends must stop!

In this issue of "The Canadian Blind Monitor," we shall examine the current situation of employment which faces blind and low-vision individuals in Canada, through an analysis of some policy issues, personal stories, and thoughtful assessments. Much of this material will deal with barriers and how some of us have surmounted some which directly affect our employment situation. However, such an individual approach, while laudatory to those who have succeeded, does not remedy the more systemic barriers that remain in the way of the bulk of us. Canada needs to embark on a true full employment program, one which would place a high priority on reducing the chronic unemployment rate that continues to plague persons with disabilities. If Prime Minister Cretien can mobilize the business community time after time for trade missions abroad, surely, he could call together these same business leaders and challenge them to show leadership here at home to remedy our situation--but where is the same political will?

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