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Call for a national accessibility action plan to meet obligations to people with disabilities

Author: Suzanne Cohen Share

Posted on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 at 9:15 am

For years I have followed the work of advocacy groups in order to understand the needs of people with disabilities. One issue stands out among the research: the removal and prevention of barriers is vital to provide equal access to daily living. Two recognizable advocacy groups are asking the federal government to get on with a plan of action.

It was only a matter of time before Canadian advocates on behalf of people with disabilities would ask for a federal program or plan to meet Canada’s obligations to the United Nations. Canada signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which came into force on May 3, 2008. We joined 147 other countries that that have signed the convention, 95 of which have ratified it. On a global scale, each country that signed or ratified the convention is moving forward to achieve accessibility for people with disabilities. The convention clarifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities.

You may ask why there is not already a federal initiative that enforces a uniform method to achieve accessibility throughout Canada. Provinces are approaching the subject separately and a federal framework or plan seems to be common sense. To date, there is no indication that a federal program is forthcoming. Nonetheless, various disability advocacy groups are encouraging the federal government to take a leadership position. This month, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) released a Working Paper on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to start a dialogue on this topic and propose actions for implementation.

The working paper calls for “national mechanisms for implementation, monitoring and reporting” to achieve the obligations of the convention. These advocacy groups are asking for the federal government to enact Article 4 of the convention. Article 4 states people with disabilities or their representatives will be consulted and involved in implementing the convention. A core call for action includes “a national framework for implementation”:

Design a National Framework for Implementation, or a National Action Plan, to ensure Canada meets its obligations in Article 33(2) and to provide the vision and overarching framework for successful implementation of the CRPD. A detailed implementation action plan would identify necessary mechanisms for collaboration, benchmarks for monitoring and reporting, and strategies for priority areas for action the disability community has identified, including:

  • Access to disability supports
  • Poverty alleviation
  • Labour force participation
  • Accessibility and inclusion
  • Canada’s international leadership

The authors have crafted an intelligent and reasonable plan to achieve the obligations in the convention—including actions that the federal government has already promised. They don’t demand the government fix the world this minute, but instead call for an advisory panel including people with disabilities as participants. It is important to note that these two advocacy groups stayed within the legal confines of the convention and the presently unsigned or ratified Optional Protocol. The Optional Protocol allows for a UN committee to be assembled that will review the progress of participating nations.

All Canadians will benefit from a national program of action that is transparent, accountable and measurable. Achieving accessibility for people with disabilities requires national leadership that does not leave individual communities with the task of identifying the work to be done.

There are many reasons for the general public to support this call to action. Organizations will benefit from a national plan that prescribes minimum requirements, timelines and guidelines. A comprehensive national plan of action will help Canadians to understand their commitments and identify priorities. Organizations can use a national plan as a baseline to educate staff, volunteers and third parties on expectations. With access to a broad bank of diverse information, national organizations will be able to rapidly understand their obligations and changes that require a financial remedy.

When I use the words minimum standards, I do not mean the federal government needs to have weak legislation that can be bettered by provinces, municipalities, regions or organizations. A strong federal framework will mean that everyone can relax about enacting additional legislation.

Disability advocacy groups understand that federal leadership means everyone in Canada can be on the same path. This call for action is a win-win situation for everyone. Perhaps we can all find out what is the best way to convince the federal government to act on this working paper or at least tell us if there is a plan in the works.

Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A.
Access (SCS) Consulting Services o/b 0623921 Ontario Ltd.

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