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A Call For Balanced Input

Editor's Note: Brenda Cooke is a member of AEBC's Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Chapter. The following, reprinted from the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, February 8, 2008, was written in response to the recently elected Saskatchewan government's decision to disband the Council on Disability Issues in favour of consulting a variety of community groups that represent people with disabilities (stakeholders), rather than focusing specifically on rights holders--persons with disabilities.

As a person with a disability, I urge Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer to reconsider her plans for consulting with the community on disability issues.

I've never been sure what the Council on Disability Issues has been doing, but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile. Sometimes such groups are window dressing for the government, but sometimes governments get rid of them because these groups don't have the ability, money or the power to defend themselves.

It is important that the Wall government put in place a structured and obvious method to consult with disabled consumers and organizations that provide services to them, but it must keep several things in mind.

There is a distinct difference between representatives from service organizations and those from consumer groups. Service organizations do care about their clients, but they have a vested interest in making sure that people continue to need their services and hence provide them with job security. These organizations are less likely to promote real change in case they offend a funding source.

Representatives of consumer groups most likely want to bring about equal participation in society through opportunities for work, family, finances, social activities and the ability and resources to participate with as much independence and self-determination. The disabled want this done with as little charity as possible. Consumer groups have open, affordable membership and are governed through the democratic process involving all members.

In any consulting structure there should be equal representation from people with disabilities and their families, and service providers, one or two people with disabilities who have an extensive background in disability but have no affiliation, and maybe one or two government officials. Non-affiliated individuals and people representing consumer groups should be given an honorarium and/or have their expenses covered because often they are volunteers struggling to get by on incomes below the poverty line.

Even with such a structure in place, there should be open public forums at least twice a year and widely circulated bi-monthly public reports so that everyone interested can see what's being accomplished.

I am afraid that if an open and structured process is not established, the disabled and their community of supporters will think that this government views them as unimportant and disposable.