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Editorial: Building An Inclusive and Accessible Canada

"There are no insurmountable obstacles to prevent Canada from taking a World Leadership Role in providing disabled persons with the practical means for greater independence."--Obstacles Report, 1981

In the early 1980's, a conscious decision was made in Canada to divide group and individual advocacy. Thus, the Disability Rights Movement, led by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), focuses on changing legislation and policies, while the Independent Living Movement, coordinated nationally by the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centers (CAILC), focuses on consumer-directed service provision.

Initially, many consumer-directed services were established partly as a direct response to traditional service providers of the rehabilitation industry, where persons with disabilities generally have little or no say over the services offered, or the ways in which they were provided.

Today, there is a network of over 25 Independent Living Centers from coast to coast in Canada that offers a variety of services to Canadians with various disabilities, including individuals who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.

Both movements assert strongly that environmental, communication and attitudinal barriers--and not the disability itself--are the major causes of the exclusion and marginalization from regular community life that is the reality for so many Canadians who have any disability.

To live independently with dignity and to be able to participate fully in all aspects of regular community life, we need the provision of a range of disability supports including coverage of the costs of needed assistive devices; full access to the built environment; availability of reliable public transportation; construction of housing that all can use, regardless of age or physical condition; availability of mobility training; publication of information in formats that all can read; and most of all, we need improved public attitudes and urgent and immediate relief from the chronic level of poverty that remains the reality for so many Canadians who live with a disability in this affluent country.

It's amazing how so many simple, cost-effective solutions for access benefit everyone. Elevators and curb cuts help people with strollers and carts. Television captions allow people to watch TV without disturbing anyone else. Website content that is designed for blindness or other disabilities is cleaner and easier to use.

On November 2, 2006, CCD and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) convened leaders of the disability community in Ottawa to celebrate the achievements in advancing the status of Canadians with disabilities over the past 25 years, and to provide a forum to share current thinking on two key social policy issues: the idea of a Canadians with Disabilities Act, and Exploring the Issues of Poverty and Disability. "A Declaration to Create an Inclusive and Accessible Canada" was formally released (found elsewhere in this issue).

Since publication of the 1981 Obstacles Report, numerous other reports have been released. In most areas, the research is in; the case for inclusion has been made; and it's time for governments at all levels, employers and the community to truly accept persons with disabilities as a growing reality of each community.

For our part, persons with disabilities are one of the most adaptable groups in our society. We want to participate side by side with everyone else, to earn a decent income, to participate in community life, and to raise a family.

It's time that governments at all levels showed the leadership that is so desperately required, and provided us with the tools we need to make our dreams come true!

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