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Editorial: Strengthening Our Movement

Editor's Note: *Images: Cartoon penguin wearing a top hat and holding a cane, and outline of a maple leaf (representing Canada).

Voting in an election is considered by many to be the most important act of citizens living in a democracy. But the actions of politicians and citizens between elections greatly influences whom people vote for and what party ultimately makes the laws and develops the policies that affect the lives of all Canadians.

Until the mid 70's, persons with disabilities were "served" and "represented" by others. We largely lacked our own voices. Enter the disability rights and independent living movements, and we began to fill that vacuum!

While distinct in their own ways, both movements emphasize improving public perceptions of our capabilities, increasing opportunities to participate in our communities, and consumer control over the development and delivery of programs that affect our lives. Simply stated, we are the experts when it comes to disability. We know our own needs, and we are and must be seen as our own best and appropriate spokespersons.

In 1992, forward-thinking individuals in Kelowna, British Columbia, formed the NFB:AE to provide blind Canadians with a collective voice to change public attitudes and a vehicle to expand opportunities across Canada. Since our founding, the NFB:AE has changed in some fairly fundamental ways, and has developed into a truly "made in Canada" organization that attempts to deal with the unique social, economic, historical and political reality that is this great country of Canada.

These many issues include: improving access to the electoral process and raising our concerns during elections; increasing access to information in usable formats and to regular household products; seeking funding for needed technical equipment; enhancing protection for guide dog users; fighting poverty; attempting to improve the way in which we are perceived and portrayed (including work with the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission and the media); and various aspects related to employment, transportation and health care.

This edition of the Canadian Blind Monitor focuses on the movement and the role the NFB:AE is playing. It includes stories on and by some individuals who are leaders in our organization, snapshots of some of our chapters, and articles on issues that are of importance to our members and the overall blind community in Canada.

Since our founding, the range of issues we are called upon to respond to and the areas where we wish to be seen as leaders continue to grow exponentially. We must continue to grow and involve individuals with new ideas and energy.

We are delighted with our new Chapters in Collingwood and the Ottawa-Gatineau area, and we hope to form several more in the next few months.

During the remainder of 2004, we are participating in more conferences than ever before, and these events provide us the opportunity to bring our message to new audiences, venture into new parts of Canada and seek new members.

And a fundamental part of our message is that simple, yet profound slogan--Nothing About Us Without Us!

Disabled consumers must be involved in a meaningful partnership way in all new research initiatives, and by being treated as the legitimate spokespersons for our own issues that we believe we are. This means providing consumer organizations with greater resources so they can respond effectively with detailed, carefully thought out proposals when called upon for input.

There is a need throughout the entire disability rights movement for new, younger leaders to step forward, to plug in and to gain experience in the same way that many of us did--through direct involvement in the movement's important and exciting work. If you have ever considered joining in, now is a great time.

Consider no more--jump in feet first--add your ideas and creativity, and chances are you will come away with new skills, new friends, and new experiences that will enhance the rest of your life.