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Editorial: Forging Real Equality

Being an equal citizen means having rights as well as sharing responsibilities.

However, despite the decades of well intentioned equality and inclusion rhetoric and activity, and the emergence and continuing advances in legislation and accessible communication technologies, negative stereotyping of "the blind" remains so deeply rooted in Canada's psyche that attitudinal/systemic barriers to 1st class citizenship continue to be fostered and perpetuated.

Barriers include misguided beliefs and attitudes that lead to public misconceptions, circumscribing in advance what individuals are capable of achieving; diminished expectations that inevitably undermine individual self-esteem and worth as a valued member of society; systemic barriers that continue to deny equal and independent access to mainstream information and employment; and a denial of one's inherent worth and dignity that further saps the human spirit and one's potential. Thus, Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted continue, as a group, to live among the poorest of the poor in this affluent country of ours.

But we are not comfortable with this situation, and that is why consumer organizations, such as the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), were formed and continue to work hard to change our situation.

The disability rights movement asserts that people with disabilities are human beings with inalienable rights and that these rights can only be secured through collective political action. It arises out of the realization that, as historian Paul Longmore has written, "Whatever the social setting and whatever the disability, people with disabilities share a common experience of social oppression."

How can we ensure that blind persons are afforded equal protection and equal benefits of the law, promised in Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

How can blind persons gain meaningful education, marketable training and skills that will enable them to be valued, contributing members of their community?

How can we create equal opportunities that promote self-determination and independence?

How can blind persons gain independent, fair and equal access to information and services that are fundamental human rights in a democratic society?

What will it take to enable the bulk of persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted to participate fully in their communities?

And what would a more equitable future look like, and what would it include for persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted?

  • Involve organizations of consumers with disabilities in the development of all new legislation, policies and programs that affect our lives, as we know best what we need;

  • Ensure the federal government, each province and territory have a fully enforceable Human Rights Code and education program to improve the climate of human rights throughout Canada;

  • Strengthen and expand Employment Equity and duty to accommodate legislation so it really works;

  • Ensure the right of access for guide dogs into all premises and the right to travel internationally;

  • Ensure that employers provide workplace accommodations short of undue hardship;

  • Improve employer awareness of our capabilities and dispel the myths of compromised safety, lower productivity, excessive absenteeism, and the costs of workplace accommodations;

  • Remove work disincentives in our social assistance programs;

  • Provide access to curriculum materials in preferred alternative formats at the start of a semester;

  • Ensure distance-learning programs are fully accessible;

  • Accommodate extra curricular activities throughout primary, secondary and post-secondary education so all students can participate fully in the entire education experience;

  • Expand the teaching of braille;

  • Implement uniformity of website design that adheres to W-3 or enhanced standards;

  • Improve the portrayal, increase the presence and participation of persons with disabilities throughout the media;

  • Focus more on the hard news aspect of a story, and not simply its human-interest side;

  • Include video description (DVS) in movies and television programming and listings;

  • Develop products using universal design principles so the widest number of persons can use them independently;

  • Expand tactile access and information in alternative formats in museums and other historic sites;

  • Ensure adequate assistance is provided at all airports;

  • Ensure all automated check-in kiosks are fully accessible;

  • Ensure hybrid/electric cars emit sound so they can be heard by pedestrians;

  • Announce all subway, streetcar and bus stops;

  • Expand the availability of audible pedestrian signals in local communities;

  • Increase tactile and large print signage;

  • Include coverage for eye tests and remedial procedures; e.g.: physiotherapy, chiropractic services etc. under Canada's health care system;

  • Increase the availability of talking automated banking machines (ABMs) and make their design more uniform;

  • Provide alternative format versions of bank and credit card statements, and other bank documents; e.g.: mortgage contracts and statements, banking circulars, interest rate sheets;

  • Remove barriers so we can vote independently and in secret;

  • Ensure political party platforms are available in various alternative formats;

  • Implement a publicly funded program of needed assistive devices for persons with disabilities in each province and territory that will be available throughout the life cycle, including adequate training so they can be used effectively;

  • Ensure new versions of computer technology are usable by all persons;

  • Provide full access to shopping flyers and e-commerce;

  • Implement public education programs that foster a true acceptance of the value of difference;

  • Encourage the public to "ask, and not assume we need help;

  • Reduce poverty and increase social assistance rates for those who need it;

  • Increase availability of orientation and mobility services to increase independence;

  • Increase the level of intervener services for persons who are deaf-blind;

  • Develop a true "Disability Tax Credit" that would assist all eligible Canadians with disabilities whether they currently pay taxes or not;

  • Ensure full access to volunteer opportunities;

  • Provide braille menus in restaurants and accessible information in hotel rooms.

Are we asking for too much? We don't think so. We are only seeking the same opportunities to participate in Canadian society that so many other persons take for granted and that are supposedly guaranteed by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as federal, provincial and territorial human rights codes across the country.

This list represents some of the issues the AEBC is working on, and demonstrates some of the barriers that must be removed so that Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted will finally achieve the International Year of the Disabled Persons (IYDP) promise of "full participation and equality" developed way back in 1981.

We still have a long road to travel to achieve that promise! Get involved and help bring about the changes that are still needed to ensure we will achieve our goal of first-class citizenship.