By: John Rae
Over the past twenty or thirty years, the world has undergone dramatic changes. This is also true in the lives of persons with disabilities, including those of us who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.
We used to say that access to information was our greatest barrier, then the internet came along, and now we also must deal with information overload, yet Donna Jodhan was compelled to file a Charter challenge against the federal government over inaccessible federal government websites.
Technology has made it possible for some individuals with disabilities to live more independent lives, yet much of the world's new technology is not developed with us in mind, often requiring work around or expensive adaptations.
The range of jobs is probably wider, yet some jobs that employed numbers of blind persons, like darkroom technician, transcriptionist, and telephone operator have been rendered largely obsolete by this same technology.
Braille is easier to produce than ever before, yet less and less is being made available, as some incorrectly argue it is no longer needed.
More and more blind students are attending colleges and universities, yet, even in this more technological era, these students must still deal with obtaining essential texts and other course materials in a readable format and timely manner.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the rights of persons with disabilities, but the federal government cancelled the Court Challenges Program, which makes it extremely difficult to go to court to test the reach of these rights.
Human rights codes now cover persons with various disabilities, yet enforcing our rights have too often become bogged down in legal procedural wrangling and growing case backlogs.
Descriptive narration is now being introduced to some movies and television shows, but some Canadian broadcasters will not or cannot "pass through" the dv track from some American programs that already include the dv track.
Intervenor services for deaf-blind persons have been developed, but governments have failed to adequately fund these critical programs and today they are also facing cutbacks.
Many museums are more physically accessible, but their displays often contain even more "hands off" restrictions than in years past.
More blind persons are out and about in their communities, yet few restaurants offer braille or large print menus.
More and more audible pedestrian signals are appearing in our communities, but community pressure leads to some being turned off at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., long before some of us are home and snug in our little beds.
Studies tell us public attitudes have improved, but our level of employment has not increased significantly.
And while there is now a growing network of consumer-led organizations of us rights holders across Canada, governments and businesses too often still turn to service organizations when they are seeking advice on disability issues.
Disability is the only equity seeking group that everyone can, and many will join during your lifetime, and with the aging of the baby boomer population, more and more individuals will experience disability, either permanently or temporarily, and so may your family members, friends or associates. Thus, it is in everyone's interest to help persons with disabilities join the mainstream of Canadian society.
The more persons with disabilities are present every day in newsrooms, the more likely we will see stories that cover the reality of our lives, and will tell the public about our aspirations and needs. The more we work with developers and manufacturers of new technology, the more likely that universal design approaches will be built in from the start of the development phase. And if more Canadians with disabilities participated more actively in the political process as staff members for the various parties, sought nomination as candidates, ran for elected office, and succeeded in getting elected - the more that members of our community participate more directly where decisions that affect our lives in a very direct way get made, the more likely those decisions will help bring us into the mainstream of Canadian society.
The research has been conducted. The recommendations are in. As our numbers continue to rise, will we see increased government and business commitment and concrete action?
Engage with us. Involve us. Collaborate with us.