Sunday, March 21, 2010


The Federal Government proudly announced that it was the 84th nation to ratify the International Covenant on Human Rights for Persons with Disabilities. In the same breath, they pat themselves on the back to announce how much of a leader Canada is in implementing equality provisions as cited in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and administratively through our Human Rights Codes. While political commentators, including this one, are pleased this was done, the plight of persons with disabilities is far from improved. In fact, many uninformed bigots continue to try to attack what few rights we have, as cited in a recent letter of mine in the local newspaper. Carol Goar acknowledges that we still have a very long way to go before people with disabilities have equal citizenship rights.

What is telling in particular are the comments that readers are allowed to contribute to any article, editorial or news items of interest to my local paper. In this paper, probably like most online newspapers, the same few seem to contribute. An individual identifying himself as "seekthetruth" and another individual that are both white males, espousing a Christian view and somehow feel that Christians are somehow under attack by human rights commissions. This is far from the truth as I am aware of Christian issues being raised in workplaces, and the rulings favouring the worker that was discriminated against due to their beliefs (such as a Jehovah's Witness' right to refuse to participate in decorating a store with Christmas decorations, and in another case, an employee denied the Holy Day off from his job to partake in his worship). As another poster stated, it is people like "seekthetruth" and people like him why we need human rights commissions. Both individuals were well-employed and never personally experienced discrimination, and at least one is enjoying a healthy retirement income. The myth that people are hired on the basis of merit has been quashed awhile back, while all the intolerant were asleep.

People with disabilities are drummed out of the workplace in many ways, which white males who are secure in their jobs, do not see or understand. Injured workers get refused a modified work position. Some are ultimately put out of a job because the worker is deemed unable to perform the essential duties of their job, so instead of trying to find alternative work for them, the person is "separated" from their job instead. They end up on welfare or if they are really lucky, Ontario Disability Support benefits, and denied even the basic tenets of the dignity of a decent job. It is not all white males that are like this, as I have represented many white males before the Human Rights Tribunal for various reasons, e.g. disability discrimination, age, sexual harassment by a female boss.

Connection to a full-time decent paying job is too often the only key to social and community participation for people. Once separated from the job, the person's self-esteem and their overall health is impacted. People with disabilities do not want to be on social assistance any more than anybody else does. Many are over-educated and well-qualified to take on work that seems to be available only to "relatives" of the boss, or to able-bodied persons that are screened in through seemingly innocuous criteria, such as a valid driver's license and a vehicle, and other potential criteria that persons with different types of disabilities cannot manage. These screening mechanisms serve to keep people out of jobs, not put them in. Then, folks question why more than half of persons with disabilities are "out of the paid labour force", or unemployed. Regardless of education level, a person with a disability does not enjoy equality to their non-disabled peers. The Canadian Association of Professional with Disabilities has formed for the purpose of promoting their members into getting into jobs they are qualified for instead of being steered by employment counselors to low-wage call centre and retail jobs.

I know many well-educated persons with disabilities who are stuck on ODSP: social workers, lawyers, former civil servants, a librarian, a forensic accountant, among many others, that employers claim they need, but refuse to look beyond their nose to seek people who may speak, move or communicate differently to join their staff and offer their many varied talents. Last summer, I sat in a circle around a food stand downtown, where I regularly met with people with disabilities: one in a wheelchair who taught martial arts as well as is a licensed social worker, another attending school for forensic psychology, and another one who was an engineer in his day ... all of whom on welfare or ODSP. Somebody needs to look at these things and take responsibility for this great loss to society.

I read an article today about older drivers. Competing interests include safety and the right to live independently. I reviewed the article in depth, and it does not say how many younger people are subject to the same removal provisions for their driver's license. It is not only a senior's issue. To me, it is fine to take somebody off the road, but you need to provide alternative transportation so the person can continue to live out their lives with relative independence. As a non-driver in Niagara, apart from work related travel, which is hugely expensive, I am house-bound. I would love to travel to my in-laws, to the beach, to Fort George, to Niagara Falls, and just hop in a car and go ... but these things taken for granted by people who drive, is another area where ignorance also plays a major role in keeping people with disabilities down.

On a group that I help run called odspfireside, I have heard from persons living on ODSP who are forcibly single because if they as much enter into a relationship with somebody else, that other person is forcibly included on ODSP, without choice. The "spouse" ends up having to work enough to support both of them, even if it means they have to work two or three jobs to keep things afloat, until the benefit unit ends up with two disabled persons, instead of just one. ODSP recipients are put under scrutiny, and treated as non-citizens through various fraud prevention initiatives, which has only led to fear and loss of integrity on the part of those entangled with what was called the "800 rules". While the focus of the report is Ontario Works, ODSP is just as much part of the suspicious trap people are placed in.

In recent days we had a positive decision concerning special diets by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, stating that the 2005 amendments to it were unfair and discriminatory in many cases. In the legislature, Minister Madeleine Meilleur, who has among her different portfolios, social assistance, persons with disabilities and AODA, had mused about how expensive the program is, and has not quelled any of the rumour that the government is about to scrap it so it can cut the deficit.

Because the case came through the Human Rights Code, it is likely that many of us may attempt to press the reprisal provisions of the Code if the government considers this tactic, but these things are barely scraping the surface of all the discrimination persons with disabilities encounter, simply because they have the same desires and interests everybody else has. I found myself, if I chose to sit at home and do nothing, I am left alone, but when I wanted something, whether that be an education, a job beyond Mickey D's, transportation, the right to participate fully in the community, etc., then it was like asking for a constitutional amendment just to get what others don't even have to beg for.

I also encounter persons with disabilities that actually believe they should just play the game, accept the 800 rules of abuse, and just let things go. They would rather not fight, as they fear losing what little they have. Unfortunately, this is they attitude that they want us to have. It is easier for those doing the discriminating to continue to do so without as much of a whimper from most of the people they are attacking. It only makes it easier to push for even more cuts, perhaps even a change in the definition of disability and cuts to other benefits, as those not fighting back are allowing this to happen.

How did the gays and lesbians do it? How did the blacks do it? How did the women do it when they wanted to have the right to vote? They organized and made it bloody hard for politicians and others to continue to do business as they always have, and they cannot not notice what people with disabilities are doing ... we have to move away from the charity model to the entitlement and rights-based model, where persons with disabilities have entitlements and rights, and are equal with respect to their right to citizenship ... hell, many of us don't even vote! I fail to see how that is helpful. It is time we wake up with a more definitive and radical strategy to build out rights to the point of not only recognition, but obligation on the part of others ... the same way others and the media will not print negative things about gays, Jews, blacks, and so forth ... we need to have this discussion. We need to move ahead.

Your thoughts?

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