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Marjorie Fulton: Lifelong Advocate

Editor's Note: Marjorie Fulton, who passed away on November 15, 2009, was an advocate on accessibility issues for people with disabilities, including sitting on AEBC's Copyright Subcommittee. Below is an outline of Ms. Fulton's advocacy journey, based on some of Marjorie's own writings.

Marjorie Fulton was born on her family's farm in Manitoba in 1931. At age ten, she lost her sight from progressive myopia and enrolled in the School for the Blind in Brantford, Ontario. A bright student, she left the school after grade 12 at the age of 16, and in 1952 earned a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Manitoba. She was assisted by volunteer readers, as this was before the advent of tape recorders, and by friends who acted as sighted guides, as orientation and mobility training had not been available at the school for the blind at the time of her attendance. It was when she was a Social Work student, in fact, that Marjorie learned how to use a white cane. She would acquire her first guide dog in 1988.

After graduating from university, Marjorie worked at the Winnipeg YWCA for nine years, where she lobbied for increased minimum wages for sewing factory workers and for a change in policy to allow pregnant women to stay in the residence. When she moved to Family Services of Winnipeg, she contributed to the improvement of Manitoba's family laws. But it really wasn't until the 1970s that she began advocating on disability issues, like being part of a group that persuaded the Winnipeg public library, as well as the provincial public library system, to develop and provide through interlibrary loan a collection of audio materials, including both talking books for the blind and commercially available audio tapes.

By the late '70s, the Independent Living Movement, which sought to replace the medical model of disability with a social model, had reached Manitoba. The province's disabled citizens, through their involvement with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, were instrumental in triggering the Special Parliamentary Committee on the Handicapped during the International Year of Disabled Persons, 1981. At the time, Marjorie was arranging for the preparation and distribution of audio and braille copies of conference documents, but when the Parliamentary Committee's report "Obstacles" resulted in an amendment to the Human Rights Act--adding disability as prohibited grounds for discrimination--and the position of policy analyst opened up, Marjorie got the job. She moved to Ottawa in 1982 to begin working for the Canadian Human Rights Commission. According to Marjorie, perhaps a quarter of the complaints filed under the act were based on disability and this proportion did not lessen over the years.

In 1989, Marjorie began working at Human Resources Development Canada in the Employment Equity Program. This legislation required federally regulated businesses--banks, airlines, broadcasters etc.--federal contractors and the federal government itself to recruit and retain women, visible minorities, Aboriginal people and persons with disabilities in proportion to their representation in the workforce. Its best results, according to Marjorie, was its application to contractors doing business with the Canadian government.

After her "retirement", and in response to suggestions from some blind Ottawa residents, Marjorie put together a brief on the need for accessible pedestrian signals, which eventually succeeded in getting the city to adopt a comprehensive policy. Also, as a member of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities' (CCD) Access to Information Committee, she helped to develop a Canadian standard for accessible banking machines, which eventually resulted in some banks installing such machines. Similarly, she got involved in proceedings related to the revision of the Canadian Copyright Act. As it was necessary to secure permission from the copyright holder to produce material in accessible formats, a process that often resulted in delays in getting such things as textbooks, Marjorie and others sought a requirement that publishers provide accessible alternatives for comparable charges on request. Instead, an exemption now means that it is no longer an infringement of copyright to make an accessible version. Through CCD, Marjorie also lobbied the publishers' associations to begin depositing their own electronic files with a central repository, from which alternative versions could be produced as needed. This is still taking shape.

"The world has treated me very generously," Marjorie wrote in an item about her advocacy work. "I had a loving family and supportive friends. I was also fortunate in timing, starting college just when farm income enabled my father to fund my post-secondary education, training for social work just when jobs were multiplying, and being a known activist when disability rights employment opened up." But perhaps final credit for Marjorie's advocacy efforts should go to what she learned both personally and as a social worker: "What stayed with me was that, in maturing, you stop waiting for Santa Claus, and instead become Santa Claus, taking action to address your own needs."

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