Imagine having your ability to be a parent challenged simply because you have a physical disability. Imagine carrying your child for the duration of your pregnancy with your husband, who also has a disability, by your side throughout just to have a government children’s protection program take your child on the day of birth. Imagine having to fight to get your newborn back after children’s service arbitrarily decided you couldn’t parent because both parents have a disability. Unfortunately, in Canada, some people don’t have to imagine instead they have to fight.
I find this particularly upsetting because I really believed that we were passed this type of blatant discriminatory activity fifteen years ago. I watched and participate in the advancements in health care in the 50’s and 60’s. Technology just speeded up those advancements, which forced societal thinking to change. At the speed with which technology develops it is impossible for societal thinking to maintain pace, which usually leaves us playing catch up when it comes to planning supportive programs.
In 1967 I participated in the first Canadian National Wheelchairs Games held in Montreal during Expo. Those first games represented a big step forward in societal recognition and acceptance of the disabled in mainstream society. The significance of this was lost on me at the time; after all I was a seventeen year old on his way to a major city hosting an international event. I was going to have fun but when one looks back the development of wheelchair sports did a lot to establish an early cornerstone of independence, self-determination. An important component when it comes to true independence.
In the 70’s and 80’s I participated in the development of programs and policies aimed at ensuring protection from discrimination based on a persons disability. I sat on committees that examined the proposed changes to the national building code to ensure a universal approach to physical access was being used. As a provincial advocate for the Canadian Mental Health Association I the opportunity to be involved at a very early stage in the introduction of the Canadian Charter of Rights.
However the same technology that had such an impact on health care was also changing the face of the disabled. Major improvements in neonatal health were introducing a whole new generation of persons with developmental and mixed disabilities that had never been seen before. Now those programs developed in the 60’s and 70’s build on the societal beliefs of the 50’s and 60’s were not as successful. Deeper fragmentations were happening in the disabled community itself as each emerging group competed for a shrinking pie of government grant money.
In the 90’s I became immersed in the fight to expand the meaning of access. Did a ramp into the library mean it was accessible? Not if you asked an individual with a visual impairment. We again needed a shift, not only in societal thinking, but also within the disabled community itself. Technology itself demanded changes in the definition of access. With increasing resources going into the development of a cyber world electronic access was now as important as physical access. In 2000 the International Conference “Access by Design” held in Montreal a group of attending participants coined the term “the disabled of the future will be those who cannot access technology” which I continue to maintain.
Throughout the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s change was happening with a positive affect on most individuals with a disability. However the 80’s and 90’s also saw a shift in societal thinking. To many people were now coming from a position of complacency and buying into the hype that everything was fine and that individuals with disabilities were “taken care of”. First of all I have always maintained I don’t want to be taken care of but I do expect a few field levelers. However what I am increasingly hearing from people these days is “haven’t we done enough to help the disabled”.
Well I started this out raising the issue of a married couple (both with disabilities) having to fight for custody of their own child. That hardly strikes me as advanced societal thinking. In fact it strikes me as a society who has started moving backwards.
In 2006 the Harper government shut down the Web Accessibility office thereby removing any oversight regarding web accessibility on government sites. In 2010 Donna Jodhan, a visually impaired professional, took the federal government to court and won a right that had been established twelve years earlier: access to the Internet. In 2011 Maricyl Palisoc and Charles Wilton had to fight for one of the most basic of rights, that of a parent.
In 2012 the Alberta government revised its Education Act and removed the condition to use teaching and study materials that “honour and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Alberta Human Rights Act”. I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist but all I see is erosion of belief and erosion of belief traditionally takes away from rights. I don’t believe the disabled of tomorrow will have near the rights my generation enjoyed and they won’t even realize they have lost them.
Just one man’s opinion.