You are here:

Forging a New Consensus

In any democracy, citizen participation is a cherished right, and it should be a priority for all Canadians, disabled and non-disabled alike.

For many of us who have a disability, including your Editor, the Disability Rights Movement offered the first real chance to participate directly in discussing policies and formulating strategies for action on issues that directly affect our daily lives. Through this involvement, many of us gained invaluable skills and experience we might not otherwise have acquired. In fact, whenever I am asked about the greatest legacy left by the Movement, I always point first to the personal growth of individuals who have participated actively in this exciting work.

Canadians who are blind have traditionally been disenfranchised- both organizationally and individually which makes it even more important that we learn to finally set aside those differences which have historically divided us, and learn to work together in a more collaborative and cohesive manner.

In Canada, the blind individual, the client and receiver of services, has no representation within the service-providing agency. This is a model from another era, which is being replaced in other countries like New Zealand and the UK with consumer-driven and consumer-directed service provision.

Disenfranchisement also involves lack of information and inability to access the printed word; hence, knowledge of one's rights and responsibilities as part of citizenship is restricted. This is particularly egregious at election times, where party platforms are rarely available in one's preferred alternative format, and where we are often unable ot vote privately as are all other citizens. Having information on party platforms is needed by an citizen who wishes to cast an informed vote.

In the first of two CBM issues that will examine the national scene, this edition focuses particularly on two main themes which are complementary- developing closer ties among organizations of blind consumers, and an examination of the chronic level of poverty that continues to plague our community and restrict our options. Other matters of a national scope are also covered.

During the 70s and 80s, the Disability Rights Movement made considerable progress in moving our issues from the back rooms to the newsrooms. We became newsworthy!

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted, and all Human Rights Commissions across Canada included persons with disabilities among their list of protected groups. But this legal equality has never been translated into real economic opportunities, and persons with disabilities remain among the poorest of the poor in our affluent country.

In recent years, we have witnessed a shift away from looking at our issues in a rights-based paradigm to the old and out-moded increased reliance upon voluntarism where we are forced to again depend more on charity and charitable institutions.

At the same time, we have seen massive government cuts (especially in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia) which have reduced or eliminated altogether many vital government support programs we require. In addition, the reduction or elimination of government transfer payments makes it increasingly difficult for non-profit organizations to step in and fill the void thus created by trying to deliver these programs. In this climate, it is hard not to claim that governments are "waging a war on the poor and the disabled."

The NFB:AE is reaching out more and more to other consumer organizations, in an attempt to develop an on-going working relationship, where we will share information and attempt to develop a common agenda. The current climate in Canada makes developing this kind of consensus an even greater imperative. It's time we learned how to work together more effectively, and turn that old phrase "nothing about us without us" into reality.

ZZ - Disregard this link; it is used to trick spammers.