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Disability Rights Are Human Rights

August 30, 2021

Why We Must Be Activist/Warriors

Today in the Province of Ontario, Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, over half a million people with disabilities are living in abject poverty. I recently interviewed both Rima Berns-McGowan, MPP and Joel Harden, MPP of the NDP. Both of them are astounded at the level of callousness with which Premier Doug Ford treats people with disabilities.

According to MP Harden, the Conservatives have allowed over $44 billion in tax rebates for the wealthy while at the same time they refuse to lift people with disabilities out of the dire situation they keep them in. Berns-McGowan is particularly upset with the fact that Ford’s ideology is one of cruelty. Rather than pay attention to the situation, he simply ignores it.

There are some brilliant activists in our province whom I’ve had the honour of interviewing lately: David Lepofsky, Sherry Caldwell, Anthony Frisina, and many more. Their work is essential to a way of life that is directed towards accessibility, equality and inclusiveness. But, far too many people with disabilities in Ontario are still suffering.

Here is a passionate quote from Sherry Caldwell: “It is past due for all levels of government to address disabilities rights. Ontario is riddled with barriers roadblocks and gatekeepers. This forces many people living with disabilities into poverty or lower social economic status. As founder of Ontario Disability Coalition the emails we receive are heartbreaking many feel hopeless and loss of dignity they are living in sub poverty . It’s not reflective of canadian values and needs to change.”

Here is more from David Lepofsky: “Our mainstream media are less vigilant than they need to be – they just don’t cover our issues. Most people don’t even know there is an ACA. We found during COVID that it was harder to get our issues covered. Like the triage situation. Media coverage leads to action. What concerns me right now is that we’ve seen incredible efforts but the problem is too often it’s focused not on disabilities. Equity is LBGTQ race and gender but not disability. Equity for some is not equity for all.”

From Anthony Frisina who founded Above and Beyond: “Activism remains a point of building allies in our communities literally and figuratively. It takes a village, it also takes those in power to collectively find the money to bridge the gap to accessibility and inclusion. It takes investing in money with the output being value.  There remains so much pushback from those in which we address that conversations tend to spiral rather than get solved which procrastinates the vision of collective prosperity. Rights need to be heard and action needs to take place in a prioritized fashion.”

As disability rights activists, we cannot afford to be quiet, polite and passive. We must be active all the time. We must speak to the media, interact with each other, communicate our messages to each other. Let’s not be so involved with our own needs that we forget those of others. Disability is a complex experience and unique to each individual. As activists, we must be warriors for our cause as no one else will do this for us.

September 1, 2021

Interview with Attorney and Advocate David Lepofsky


What are the Current Challenges Facing People with Disabilities?

David: Access/inclusion side of things: the problem is we have a human rights code but enforcement is weak. AODA is so behind schedule and we’re not making any progress. New barriers being created without access requirements. New threats like COVID. We face critical care triage. E-scooters come along. It cuts across everything.

How do you feel about the ACA – the Accessible Canada Act?

David: We’re happy it was passed but it’s too weak. Gov’t rejected ideas to make it stronger. Two years later concerns have come true. Progress is mired in bureaucracy. They are already in violation of the act. No new standards. No new timelines or commitments. We have requirements but without standards is unhelpful. They still haven’t hired the two people to enforce it. We’re already behind schedule. Federal dollars in billions going to provinces. They want to harmonize building codes but they sink to the lowest common denominator. Going in the wrong direction.

What do you see as some of the ongoing problems in Ontario?

David:

  1. The gov’t at different levels is invoking disability consultations but i fear in many ways it hurts us. It becomes a way to avoid setting standards. It’s incredibly wasteful instead of having standards. People with disabilities don’t necessarily know what design features will best serve them. If you look at healthcare standards there are no specific recommendations. Instead they left it to individual hospitals. Do the consultations once and set the standards. This is where this move of consulting is actually a real problem.
  2.  We need our services providers strengthen their consumer ties. To varying degrees they do and offer good advocacy. The e-scooter advocacy really worked.
  3. The more active voices we have the more impact we’ll have. We are clearly not as far along as we should be, but further than we would be without the AODA. People with disabilities would not be as energized to keep pushing without the AODA and its movement. Let’s not under-estimate the problems or the progress.

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Where is Media Coverage of Disability Issues during this Election?

In only a few weeks, Canadians will go to the polls for a federal election. There are many issues on the agenda: the economy, COVID, climate change, and other salient issues, but where are the leaders on disability issues.

In August, Conservative leader O’Toole promised more financial support for people with disabilities at a stop in Edmonton. He laid out a plan for increased worker’s benefits and other supplements, but no change to the monthly Disability Pension. This is the first and only time the Conservative leader has made mention of disability issues and his party’s commitment to us in the future.

NDP Leader Jameet Singh accused PM Trudeau of failing to take care of people with disabilities during the pandemic. “One of the main criticisms many disabled Canadians have made about the CERB and the CRB is the requirement to have previously received employment income. Those who cannot work due to their disability or who cannot find gainful employment say governments, both federal and provincial, have ignored them, a concern echoed by Singh.”

Even more promises have been made by O’Toole and Singh particularly on issues such as rent control.

The Liberals presented an impressive statement outlining all of their achievements for persons with disabilities.

Election promises are very nice and they sound as if everything is going to be fixed. But, is it? The truth is, the Federal government can only do so much. It is the role of provincial premiers to support legislation such as the AODA which we have in Ontario. In my own recent set of interviews with advocates and government leaders, the opinion is that Premier Ford does not support the AODA in the way he should and over HALF A MILLION PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN ONTARIO LIVE IN POVERTY.

Irrespective of all these promises, people with disabilities are over-represented in low-income and poverty levels. Persons with a disability make up 41% of the low‑income population, compared with 18% of the non‑low‑income population. Having a disability is therefore an important factor that increases the risk of being in low income, but not all persons with a disability are equally represented within the low‑income population.

The media needs to begin talking about us. We are a major portion of the population yet our needs often go unnoticed and unaddressed.

If Trudeau and the Liberals have done such a good job, why are so many people with disabilities still poor in Canada? Also, why are so many of us unemployed?  “Canadians with “mild” disabilities are most likely to find employment, and their unemployment rate is 35%. For those with “severe” disabilities, the rate jumps to 74%. Put another way, for every one person with a “severe” disability who finds work, three do not.”

I challenge the media to begin discussing the issues important to use. Will they respond?

Interview with ANTHONY FRISINA, Disability Rights Advocate

September 18, 2021

Anthony Frisina of Above and Beyond

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing disability rights advocate, Anthony Frisina. During our interview, Anthony shed light on some of the more challenging issues facing people with disabilities in Ontario.

1. What do you see as the state of disability rights activism in Ontario right now? Is there a collaborative effort to work together? 

ANTHONY: Activism remains a point of building allies in our communities literally and figuratively. It takes a village, it also takes those in power to collectively find the money to bridge the gap to accessibility and inclusion. It takes investing in money with the output being value.  There remains so much pushback from those in which we address that conversations tend to spiral rather than get solved which procrastinates the vision of collective prosperity. Rights need to be heard and action needs to take place in a prioritized fashion.

2. How do you feel about the enforcement of the AODA? Many groups have been critical, esp. of Ford, and his level of support for people with disabilities?

ANTHONY: There is little to no enforcement in the AODA which is how people can get away with the lack of access from a visible and invisible standpoint. We are often pushed by the wayside in favor of discrimination and abelism and capitalism.  We need to police and hold people accountable for inaccessibility.

3. What is your feeling about the new Accessible Canada Act? Will it make a positive difference? 

ANTHONY: The new Accessible Canada Act I hope will shift power into the disability community to not be afraid to speak our voices and truths build relationships, collectively prosper and bridge the gap so that the disability community can live a life we choose to live. Our quality of life is not a gate kept by a policy, handout, ableism, or discrimination.

4. What do you see as the major challenges facing people with disabilities in Ontario today?

ANTHONY: The biggest barriers I always come back to are our lack of education and freedoms for those living with disabilities, marriage, enacting a lifestyle that is one we choose to live, barriers to quality of life. The lack of funding is fundamentally a major issue as well.

Please, feel free to visit Anthony at his website to learn more about his work in this field at: https://www.anthonyfrisina.ca/