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Pathways, Potholes, Paradoxes and Possibilities

Editor's Note: John Rae is 1st Vice President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC). This article is adapted from a similar one published in Celebrating Our Accomplishments, Council of Canadians with Disabilities, November 2011.

Over the past 20 or 30 years, the world has undergone dramatic changes. This is also true in the lives of persons with disabilities, including those of us who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.

We used to say that access to information was our greatest barrier. Then the internet came along, and now we must also deal with information overload. Yet Donna Jodhan, AEBC’s National President, was compelled to file a Charter challenge against the federal government over its inaccessible websites.

Technology has made it possible for some individuals with disabilities to live more independently, yet much of the world's new technology is not developed with us in mind, often requiring expensive adaptations.

The range of jobs available today is probably wider, yet some that employed a number of blind persons, like darkroom technician, transcriptionist and telephone operator, have been rendered largely obsolete by this same technology.

Braille is easier to produce than ever before, yet less and less is being made available, as some incorrectly argue it is no longer needed.

More and more blind students are attending colleges and universities, yet even in this more technological era, these students must still deal with obtaining essential texts and other course materials in a readable format, and in a timely manner.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the rights of persons with disabilities, but the federal government cancelled the Court Challenges Program, which makes it extremely difficult now to go to court to test the reach of these rights.

Human rights codes now cover persons with various disabilities, yet enforcing our rights has too often become bogged down in legal procedural wrangling and growing case backlogs.

Descriptive narration is now being introduced to some movies and television shows, but some Canadian broadcasters will not, or cannot, "pass through" the descriptive-video track from some American programs that already include it.

Intervenor services for deaf-blind persons have been developed, but governments have failed to adequately fund these critical programs, and today they are also facing cutbacks.

Many museums are more physically accessible, but their displays often contain even more "hands off" restrictions than in years past.

More blind persons are out and about in their communities, yet few restaurants offer braille or large print menus.

More and more audible pedestrian signals are appearing in our communities, but community pressure leads to some being turned off at 10:00 or 11:00 PM, long before some of us are home and snug in our beds.

Studies tell us public attitudes towards disability have improved, but our level of employment has not increased significantly, if at all.

And while there is now a growing network of consumer-led organizations of we rights holders across Canada, governments and businesses too often still turn to service providers when seeking advice on disability-related issues.

The disabled community is the only equality-seeking group that everyone can, and many will, join during our lifetime, and with the aging of the baby boomer population, more and more individuals will experience disability, either permanently or temporarily, and so may family members, friends or associates. Thus, it is in everyone's interest to help persons with disabilities join the mainstream of Canadian society.

The more persons with disabilities are present every day in newsrooms, the more likely we are to see stories that cover the reality of our lives and that tell the public about our needs and aspirations. The more we work with developers and manufacturers of new technologies, the more likely universal design will be built in from the start. And if more Canadians with disabilities participated more actively in the political process as staff members of the various parties, sought nomination as candidates, ran for elected office, and succeeded in getting elected--the more that members of our community participate directly in the arena where decisions affecting our lives are made--the more likely those decisions will help bring us into the mainstream of Canadian society.

The research has been conducted. The recommendations are in. As our numbers continue to rise, will we see increased government and business commitment and concrete action?

Engage with us. Involve us. Collaborate with us.

Comments

I completely agree with this! People that are blind, and people with various disabilities need to be worked with so we can be mainstreamed into Canadian society, just like everybody else! The government needs to start realizing this and so do the people that aren't disabled! I hope this article has done and does, some good with reaching out to people and helping them realize this fact! It's very important and people need to realize it and work together with us!

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