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On Rights and Discrimination in British Columbia

Editor's Note: Tiffany Oakes is a student who lives in Kelowna, British Columbia.

Discrimination against blind and partially sighted people is one of the lowest forms of segregation in British Columbia. British Columbians are having their rights taken away when not fully accommodated with the equipment a disabled person requires. Blind and partially sighted citizens cannot take their rightful place in society until they are afforded equal access to education, employment, and access to mainstream services.

Education is a vital component in becoming economically viable. Without the appropriate accommodations, entry into the workforce cannot be reached. If the duty to accommodate is not upheld where access is concerned, many such British Columbians will be affected. While some blind and partially sighted people are educated enough to become gainfully employed, their perceived disability from the employers' point of view hinders their presence in the workforce.

Mainstream services can be identified as any service enabling citizens to function on a day-to-day basis. It is a well-known fact that British Columbians who are blind and partially sighted do not receive adequate services with regards to their full inclusion in society. Clearly, everyone in our society should be able to exercise their rights as proscribed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including those of disability.

One of the important aspects of becoming successful in life is the entitlement of a good education. In education today one must take the responsibility in making sure he/she has adequate services enabling them to maximize their full potential.

Evidence shows that certain educational requirements must be met in order to gain access to post-secondary education. Students who are blind and partially sighted often find themselves at a disadvantage as it is apparent that the Ministry of Education continuously fails to meet their obligation to these persons with special needs. For example, only those who have met the criteria allowing them to enter into post-secondary education will be better equipped to search for employment. Statistics prove that one of the reasons for the high rate of unemployment among blind and partially sighted people is due to restricted education.

Some contributing factors that could affect a person's motivation for higher education could be described as: sufficient financial resources are not available; the inability to self-fund (part-time work); and the lack of materials available in alternative formats (large print, electronic, braille and tape).

On the other hand, it can be proven that blind or partially sighted individuals who are well educated in various fields of work still find themselves unable to attain employment status.

Blind and partially sighted citizens have the added burden of removing several barriers before entering the workforce. Unfortunately, even though such burdens continue to be identified, society has not yet come to terms with the fact that discrimination persists.

One of the most difficult challenges faced by blind or partially sighted job seekers is society's patronizing attitude. Assumptions are often made by prospective employers that a blind or partially sighted person could not be productive. As a matter of fact, it is well noted that a blind or partially sighted applicant's resume often won't reach the screening process, and should a candidate be invited to an interview, the task then is to convince the employer or interviewer that, with accommodations and adaptations, he/she would become a productive employee.

Often when a blind or partially sighted person becomes employed, opportunities for career advancement are not available due to lack of accommodation. All employers should keep in mind that equal opportunity should be afforded to all employees.

For many years blind and partially sighted British Columbians have and will continue to fight for true inclusion in our society. The segregation of charity models for services to blind and partially sighted citizens is not acceptable, nor have they proven to be efficient. For example, when a person loses their eyesight, they are directed to charity for rehabilitation services, whereas he/she should have the right to the same mainstreamed services that everyone else receives. Mainstreaming is the only way for a blind or partially sighted person to maintain his/her independence and dignity.

Mainstreaming is a positive outcome when persons who are blind and partially sighted strive to be integrated in society. The resistance to accept that blind and partially sighted people have abilities, as opposed to disabilities, is what constitutes poor judgment towards them. Consensus is that our government should fulfill its responsibilities to provide adequate services via mainstreaming, without exception, to all blind and partially sighted British Columbians.

Provided that blind and partially sighted citizens receive appropriate accommodations enabling them to move on to higher education, the prospects of finding employment should be less difficult. Access to equal opportunities in a workforce can only enhance the future of those who are blind and partially sighted. For example, a higher wage leads to a more comfortable lifestyle. The only way that blind and partially sighted individuals will ever feel truly included in our society is when all services pertaining to areas such as education, employment and health are mainstreamed.

In conclusion, the traditional charity model of direct services for blind and partially sighted people is simply inadequate and unacceptable.

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