When the federal election was announced earlier this month, my mind kicked into overdrive. I knew this would have profound implications, both professionally and personally. I immediately started working on an article that encouraged the caregivers of those with special needs to get more informed about issues close to their heart. I started doing some research on how the federal election could have an impact on families like mine (my four-year-old daughter, Syona, has cerebral palsy). It mainly came down to the money—from taxes to legislated financial programs (like the RDSP) to general funding and support for education. Support programs are run by the provinces, which is significant given how our government is set up. But it got me wondering why the federal election doesn’t have more of an impact on families like mine.
As I was going about my online business recently, I came across this Globe and Mail article about how Canada is long overdue for a Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA)—similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was created 25 years ago in the US. Why are we so far behind? Thankfully, we have Barrier-Free Canada, an organization that seeks to ignite a public discussion about implementing a CDA. While Ontario has the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the enforcement and specifics of the act are questionable. The lack of national standards means the barriers we encounter with Syona’s wheelchair vary greatly throughout Canada.
While “progressive” isn’t the word I usually use when talking about our neighbours to the south, I believe they did something right when they introduced the ADA all those years ago. And if you’re cynical about the difference it actually makes, I have to tell you that whenever our family travels to the US, we’re able to go to any restaurant with Syona because they’re all accessible and, if they’re on two levels, they always have a lift. We can book an accessible hotel room that allows us to bathe her more easily and has extra room for her wheelchair. And when we’re going through airport security, no one asks us “if she can walk” or if we can lift her out of the wheelchair; instead, they explain their process for patting her and her chair down and ensure that she is within reach of us.
At this point in Syona’s life, the barriers we face are mostly physical. Down the road, Syona may face other barriers related to education and employment. What I’ve come to learn over the past four years is that the biggest barriers we face are other people’s attitudes. I realize that no piece of legislation can ever change that. But by removing the barriers and outlining them in a national piece of legislation, we’d allow people of all abilities to participate at work, at home, in schools and in community settings. To me, this is the first step toward creating a more inclusive society. Yes, businesses will face increased costs when it comes to accommodating special needs, and I realize that it will take time. But isn’t it worth it? And isn’t it about time?
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