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Evolving Disability Discourse: Is it making a difference?

Editor's Note: Danielle Laplante is a member of AEBC’s Montreal, Quebec, Chapter.

When I went out recently in my neighbourhood to take a short walk with my guide dog, a lady approached me and said, "You are the person I must absolutely speak with today." She then proceeded to tell me about her best friend, who had called her in tears, because he had received a medical diagnosis that he was going blind. Having no history of blindness in either of their families, she did not know what to tell her friend to reassure him. She said that she and her friend could only imagine a future full of suffering, due to negative stereotypes about blindness and the fact that they had little knowledge of this social group, which had been historically isolated from mainstream society. After hearing about her fears, I quickly reassured her that people who are blind and partially sighted are just like everyone else. To stay socially integrated, however, her friend would have to advocate for his individual and diverse needs, in order to assume his rightful place in society.

With the transformation of social policies in Canada, governments at the federal and provincial levels are pushing for full integration of people with disabilities. We are also progressively hearing more discussion about equal and equitable rights, and that Canadians with disabilities need to be able to assume their citizen rights and responsibilities. But even though legislation seeks to render various environments more inclusive, we still must consider that historically there has been a lack of social awareness in Canada about the reality of vision loss and the functional needs of people who are blind and partially sighted. Therefore, it may be difficult to push for full inclusion without first dealing as a society with the negatives stereotypes traditionally associated with blindness.

We still need to ask ourselves if Canada has really evolved overtime as a society. Even though the political discourse on disability has changed in accordance with new governmental directions, and we now speak of disabled people’s rights, there is still little awareness in today’s society about the daily life experiences of those with vision impairments. This lack of social consciousness means each of us has to advocate, on a more regular basis than the non-disabled, for our right to function “differently” in mainstream society. Perhaps, instead of asking if Canada has really evolved, the question should be, “Why do we still have to advocate at all?” Is this continuous need to assert our rights fair? Is it equal? Is it equitable? Why do people who are blind and partially sighted still have to do all the adapting? Is society itself ever going to change? Has the evolution of disability discourse in Canada really changed anything over the years? Based on my conversation with the lady, one has to wonder.

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