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The Making of The Quebec Law to Assure The Handicapped in The Exercise of Their Rights

Editor's Note: Irene Lambert is a founder and the current President of AEBC's Montreal Chapter.

Moving from Philadelphia to Montreal in 1969 with my husband, two guide dogs and three young sons was a major adventure and an exciting time. Bob had just completed his Ph.D. in Mathematical Psychology and I had just completed studies in political science and psychology for my baccalaureate at the University of Pennsylvania. A faculty appointment at Loyola College felt like the right position for Bob to take considering that Montreal had been my hometown. Colleges and universities were expanding with young academicians and the Quiet Revolution in Quebec was in full swing.

Before long we were enjoying the French culture, eating in French restaurants and attending live events, but we soon discovered that two blind people with guide dogs were not always welcome, especially not at Place des Arts where many of the symphony concerts and big-name artists performed.

Along with the embarrassment it caused us and our friends, it was also shocking to discover that there were no laws in the entire province to provide us any equal access or rights. There was only one small proviso buried in a city bylaw that permitted restaurants to keep fish in aquariums or allow seeing eye dogs (with no capitals).

In all of our travels in the United States, the only serious rejection we had experienced was with some taxi drivers or the odd Oriental restaurant. We had attended many of the major concert halls in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, San Francisco and even smaller cities such as Miami or Santa Barbara.

Realizing that something had to be done, we met with the chairman of the Board at Place des Arts to discuss the situation. They offered us a sighted guide and a place to store our dogs if we wanted to attend a performance. They were quite proud of the fact that they gave free tickets in the front row to the CNIB.

Thanks to our good friend, Toni Gardiner, in New York City, we collected dozens of notarized testimonies from guide-dog users who all attended the American major concert halls regularly with no problems. We even enlisted the support of Jeff Locke, director of training at Guiding Eyes, and John Byfield, director of training at Guide Dog Foundation.

But no amount of persuasion could change Place des Arts's policies.

Our next step was to enlist the helping hand of Armand Shepard, a major human-rights attorney in Montreal, who believed he would be able to attain an injunction based on the balance of convenience principle. This legal principle declares that it was more inconvenient for us to be denied a seat of our choice without our guide dog than it would be for a person who did not like sitting next to us to change their seat.

Maitre Shepard provided his time for consultation free of charge, plus the use of one of his young assistants to do the necessary research and paperwork. We were unable to meet the court costs and, being new in town, were not able to raise the human or financial support we felt we would need.

There were no consumer advocacy groups in those days and the best we could determine from the couple of blind people we knew was that there was not yet any appetite for the exercising of rights.

It was more than a year or so later, while we were having dinner with a couple of Bob's students, that more ideas began to percolate.

One of the students was from Quebec City. He believed he had a personal family friend in the plannification office of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, who could conceivably be convinced to take an interest in investigating conditions for the blind in Quebec.

At that time, there were no direct government services for the rehabilitation of the blind. Private organizations such as the Montreal Association for the Blind (MAB), the CNIB and religious institutions provided all of the existing services.

Thanks to Mark Lachance and his contact, M. Neveu, in MSSS (Ministaire de Santee et Services Socioux), The Ernest Girard Commission was established in 1974. An appropriate budget was allocated for meetings, hearings, visits to service providers, transportation and office staff. Bob was appointed to the commission along with Lloyd McLintock, manager of the Montreal CNIB, and Paule Everard, a CEGEP teacher, who were all blind. There was an ophthalmologist whose name I have long forgotten who never could learn not to refer to blind persons as "les maladies"(the sick). There were several young socially minded secretarial types and a very bright researcher. Ernest Girard, an optometrist, chaired the meetings with friendly competence and a totally open mind.

Bob wrote dozens of briefs on the need for government services, the psychology of blindness, equal rights in numerous domains, public-access rights for guide dogs etc. I attended the meetings as his interpreter, although Ernest was very good about allowing Bob to express his views in English. We soon became good friends with Lloyd McLintock while travelling back and forth to Quebec City for the meetings.

When the Girard Commission Report was published, we could not have been more pleased. It recommended that a law be passed assuring the handicapped (and that was an acceptable term in those days) have rights to equal access in just about any domain, such as education, housing, employment, public access etc. It recommended that a government department be established to provide rehabilitation services and assistive devices.

The piece de resistance for us was that no person with a disability should be discriminated against because they are using a device to ameliorate their handicap.

We were rather surprised with that wording, as we had never considered guide dogs as devices, but rather as living beings to be protected and cared for.

The Liberal government in power at that time wrote the weakest and most watered down bill pertaining to the Girard Commission recommendations. Public hearings were held in early 1976 but an election was called before the bill could be passed, and the Parti Quebecois came to power.

In less than two years, the new Bill IX was passed into law. It was clear and inclusive, and had teeth.

Public access for guide dogs was guaranteed with no caveats about being a resident or holding any specific card of identification. That was meaningful and inclusive for us, as we had personally trained our own dogs and they had been approved by Guiding Eyes and Guide Dog Foundation. This was one beautiful law and the best we had seen from anywhere in North America.

The law has been amended several times in the past few years. Now, for its thirty-year anniversary, it is time to dust it off and take another good look at it.

Epilogue

During the 1970's, Bob and Irene Lambert worked with John Byfield and Second Sight to help Quebecers get quality guide dogs that would be expected to lay quietly in any concert or restaurant.

When their sister golden retrievers, Lambda and Corey, were retired, they decided to attend the guide dog school they had so highly recommended during the past ten years. They were assigned another set of sister goldens named Zest and Zonta. Their third set of sister goldens, Finesse and Fiat, were acquired at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Raphael, California. Fiat was returned to Guide Dogs for the Blind for reassignment following Bob's untimely death, November 12, 1990, at the age of 57.

Bob was a professor at Loyola and Concordia University for 21 years. In 1979, he established the first graduate program in North America at Concordia University in the Psychology department for the study of Sensory Deficits. Both clinical and science students learned vision and perceptual psychology, about eye pathology, technical and assistive devices, rehabilitation services and life experiences with a blind professor.

Irene Lambert moved to West Island after Bob's death and is involved with the Low Vision Self-Help Association as program director and past president. She is also a member of the board of directors at the MAB, and president of the MAB users Committee.

Comments

when or how to change gears and prioritize what’s more important unless specifically asked to stop what they're doing and work on what’s now on the top of the queue.source