Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I’ve been filling up your timelines a bit with some blitz activity. Depending on who you follow, you may be getting it in double or triple the amounts. If you’re Canadian, you’ve likely (correctly) figured that it has something to do with the election. Specifically, it has to do with people that would like to see the creation of a Canadians with Disabilities Act.
Content Warning: Politics, Accessibility Issues, Red Tape
Image Description: Road sign against a sky with a sunburst in the upper right corner. The lower sign on the post is a rectangle, white, with “Election Ahead” in black capital letters. A white Caution sign is directly above it – a white triangle with a bold red border and a large black exclamation point centred in it.
When I say “election”, I don’t mean the American election. Canada is having a federal election. And, like the American election for the rest of the world, this particular Canadian election campaign has seemed just endless. After all, it’s gone on for nearly three months at this point, instead of the usual 6 weeks.
You heard me correctly. From start to finish, Canadian election season runs approximately 6 weeks. Usually. This time around, it’s been three months, and the Barrier Free Campaign and disability groups supporting it have taken advantage of the extra time to get a focused message out to the Members of Parliament and the media: It’s time that Canada had a Canadians with Disabilities Act at the federal level.
Canada Has No Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA)
America is celebrating 25 years of its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – federal legislation that says that it’s illegal to discriminate against disabled people. That’s simplified, of course. The ADA serves a vital function:
prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities.
Canada doesn’t have such a law at the federal level. Ontario has a provincial law called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and advocates fought hard to get it put it in place. However, the government’s adherence to the act has been…piecemeal, at best, lately. There’s a grand plan to have all public spaces publicly accessible by 2025, with a number of accessibility standards for both physical buildings and for customer service that first the private and then public sector have had to have met by this point. The prospect of financial penalties for organizations or businesses that failed to meet the standards was supposed to keep the public and private sector moving toward meeting the standards and 2025 goal.
But the AODA Alliance has known since 2013 that, despite election promises, the Ontario government hasn’t been enforcing violations of the Act, even though those responsible for enforcing the law know that up to 70% of the private sector is violating the reporting requirement and there is money to put toward inspections and enforcement.
The Alliance tried to address non-compliance issues with the government, but it just became another example of the push-pull interactions typical of Government-AODA Alliance interactions around accessibility:
Alliance: “Here are our concerns.”
Gov’t: “We promise that we will do this.”
Alliance (Later): “What’s the status on this? Here’s a report showing how you might do it, if you need help.”
Gov’t: “We’ll have a timeline for that on you soon.”
Alliance (Later): “It’s been nearly 403 days since you promised that you’d have a timeline on when this is going to be done…”
Gov’t: “We assure you that it’s a priority.”
And time passes and passes…and I walk around Ontario towns and cities silently wondering “I wonder how many of the accessibility standards this business has met? I wonder if the guy who owns this restaurant is even thinking about the 2025 deadline yet, and what the heck he’s going to do about the fact that his bathrooms are down a full flight of stairs?”
What Would A Canadians with Disabilities Act Do?
I’m not so sure that making the federal government responsible for making Canada barrier-free would make it happen any more quickly or efficiently, but at least something might potentially happen in the rest of Canada, accessibility-wise, for disabled people. As I write this, Manitoba is the only other province/territory with legislation that protects disabled people against discrimination. I like the idea of a national Canadians with Disabilities Act that would guarantee that disabled people have full access to airlines and trains in Canada, and to Government of Canada services and website content, and to the ability to vote in a federal election unassisted.
This doesn’t eliminate the need for accessibility planning on the provincial level. That still needs to happen. But this is an important step that Canada needs to take as a country, so that disabled Canadians and non-disabled Canadians have the same rights.
We are all Canadians, after all.
Enter David Lepofsky and The Barrier Free Canada Campaign for a Canadians with Disabilities Act
So David Lepofsky of the AODA Alliance and Barrier Free Canada (one of the most active disability activists in Ontario that I know of) has been on a Twitter-blitzing crusade for the past couple of weeks. He wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Members of Parliament up for election and the media outlets in Canada to know that:
- A country-wide Canadians with Disability Act is something that has garnered a lot of support among disabled Canadians and their advocates (true)
- Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised us a Canadians with Disabilities Act in 2006 and never followed through with it (true)
- Disabled Canadians, their needs, and their desire for a Canadians with Disabilities Act are getting almost no media coverage during this election season (true).
And I would add: America made the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 fucking years ago, and the fact that we can’t get our act together to do it is, frankly, embarrassing.
I don’t join in on Twitter-blitzing that often, but for this cause I like the idea of a bunch of MPs and media people looking at their Twitter feeds and going, “Huh. I’m not quite sure who these people are, but this is the third day this week that they’ve jammed up my feed. They sure are persistent.” Maybe they’ll even look into what we have to say.
So if you can live through the Twitter blitz until the 19th, I’d appreciate it. I’d appreciate it even more if you joined in. We need every retweet that we can get.
Canadian friends, please send a letter of support for Barrier Free Canada to your local candidates. And get out and vote on October 19th!
Note: Originally I incorrectly stated that George W. Bush signed the ADA into law. It was actually George Bush Senior. Thanks to Matthew Smith for pointing out my error.