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President's Report: a Glimpse of The Past and a Look Into The Future For Rights Holders

Editor's Note: For further information on AEBC's Scholarship Program and award recipients, please see "Supporting Outstanding Blind Scholars" elsewhere in these pages.)

Notes for an Address at AEBC's May 2009 Conference and Annual General Meeting

Welcome/Thanks: I want to welcome each of you, from Victoria to Halifax, for joining us here at the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians' 2009 Annual General Meeting in New Westminster, British Columbia. Please help me in thanking the organizing committee--Charles Bailey, Richard Marion, Denise Sanders and the BC Affiliate--for putting everything together and ensuring that our time here will be as pleasant as possible. I would also like to thank the 2008-09 Board of Directors for their commitment. Each National Board member brings unique talents and experiences to the table and volunteers many hours to promote the issues of the AEBC. To Richard Quan and Brenda Cooke, who are leaving the Board, I look forward to your continuing participation as active AEBC members. Richard will continue to be active as President of the Toronto Chapter, assisting with the ACB Radio show, and involved in improving our website. Brenda will continue as Editor of the Canadian Blind Monitor magazine. And I welcome all the new members who have joined AEBC during the past year, particularly the new Brant (Ontario) and Prince George (BC) Chapters. To existing Chapters, I thank all Executive members for their commitment to the work of AEBC.

Committees: AEBC has several National Committees: Scholarship, Education/Employment, Finance/Fundraising, Human Resources, Membership and Policy Development, which consists of many working groups. A new National Committee was struck with a new initiative that has been very successful--AEBC's monthly half-hour radio show called "An Eye on the North", which can be found on ACB Radio and on our website at http://www.blindcanadians.ca.

I am pleased to report that this year four scholarships were awarded: The Business, Education and Technology Scholarship: Mr. Darren Minifie, British Columbia; The AEBC Rick Oakes Scholarship for the Arts: Mr. Marc Workman, Alberta; the Toronto Chapter Scholarship: Ms. Marie-Josee Blier, Ontario; And The Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship: Mr. Gabriel Tremblay-Parent, Quebec. Congratulations! We wish these students all the best in their studies and future plans. ( Recognizing "Rights Holders": I thank John Rae (AEBC 1st Vice President) for his work on this piece. His insight and tireless work on Disability rights has been invaluable to me.

The term "stakeholder" is in widespread use by governments, social agencies and other decision-makers. The term implies that any person or group that has a "stake" in an issue should be consulted or given input into any decision being considered--regardless whether the decisions to be made will affect them directly, indirectly or hardly at all. "Stakeholder" is so loosely defined that it has come to embrace a wide range of players. In the area of developing disability legislation, policies or programs, "stakeholders" usually include government representatives, service agencies, parents' groups and even the eventual intended beneficiary, the consumer. All of these groups are considered to have a "stake" in the outcome of a decision, and to a varying extent they probably do.

However, the intended recipients of a benefit, service or program--the individuals most directly affected by any decision being made--are much more than just "stakeholders". Placing us in the category of "stakeholders" diminishes our primary "stake" and erodes what should be our direct engagement and role in reaching these outcomes. We who feel the full impact of any disability legislation, policy or program are much more than stakeholders. We consumers of such programs or benefits are in fact "Rights Holders". We are usually provided such services as a matter of our legally recognized right to equality of opportunity.

Rights Holders must be recognized as such, and must be engaged fully and directly on any decision to be made that will affect us. We "Rights Holders" demand and expect the right to a pre-eminent role in determining the outcome of any deliberations affecting us in the areas of legislation, policy or program development. We expect to be viewed in a different light, not merely as one more group of stakeholders. Consult with any appropriate stakeholder, but DO NOT make decisions without the support of rights holders and their organizations. Rights-holder organizations should take the lead on advocacy in the areas of legislation, government policy and/or group issues. This is the rightful role of such democratically constituted consumer organizations.

Recent Work: We've submitted briefs to: Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing concerning the review of the Municipal Elections Act; Standing Committee on Social Policy regarding Bill 152, an Act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario; Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services in response to the Draft Information and Communication Accessibility Standard (ICAS); Canada Post Corporation Strategic Review; Has CNIB Forsaken Blind Canadians?; and CRTC regarding Public Notice 2008-8 Unresolved issues related to the accessibility of telecommunications and broadcasting services to persons with disabilities.

We have presented at these conferences: Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Taking Action on Poverty, Poor Health and Bad Jobs, Sponsored by the Toronto Social Planning Council; NEADS (National Education Association of Disabled Students) Conference: Solutions to Library/Print Material Access; Vision Conference: Hybrid Car paper; and the general assembly at the American Council of the Blind Convention: Victories Won and the Challenges Still to be Met.

Some important meetings we have attended: Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Accessibility Standards development process; met with HRSDC (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada) Special Advisor to Minister to discuss funding possibilities and review hybrid car, electronic voting and library/copyright issues; Canada Transportation Agency Advisory Committee Meetings; CTA Consultation on Tactile Markers for Aircraft; Ontario Pre-Budget Hearings on AEBC's call for a comprehensive economic strategy; Arch Disability Law Centre re: court action for blind electors (ongoing); Ontario government's Information & Communications Standard Development Committee (ongoing); CCD (Council of Canadians with Disabilities) Social Policy Committee (ongoing); Ontario Coalition for Social Justice meetings (ongoing); and participating in meetings with Library and Archive Canada's three-year Initiative for Equitable Library Access.

Also important to note are the efforts of the working Group for a National ID Card and the National Committees working on the copyright amendments, the accessible and verifiable vote at all levels, and poverty. More details on our work can be found on our website http://www.blindcanadians.ca.

Future Direction: Our future direction will take its roots from the past year and build on what you, our rights holders, direct us to do through our discussions and resolutions. With the economic down turn, the work of our organization must move from the National Board to the Chapters. It must do this not only for economic reasons, but because local, provincial/territorial and even the federal government do not want to hear from national organizations; they want to hear from local groups and, more importantly, from individuals. Thus, Chapters and their members will need to do more in-person visits, phone calling, letters to MLAs/MPPs, MPs and local representatives in your towns and cities to move disability rights forward. We also recognize we need to build more community and have discussions with other rights holder organizations to build bridges for a more united front on disability rights and services.

An AEBC member is a rights holder who mixes with community and inspires empowerment. This ties in with the "rights holder" piece earlier in this report. It also pulls together all that we have done as an organization, as National Committees, as Chapters, and finally as individual members--it ties together all the work that each of you has done and are going to do to empower each other. Over the next few days, I encourage each of you to meet, greet, network and mix with each other to empower yourselves. In this way, disability rights in our country will continue to move forward.