Jamie’s thoughts on the Federal Election Forum on Accessibility and Disability

On Tuesday, September 29th, one of our L.I.F.E. Mississauga Instructors, Jamie Hutchins was able to attend the Federal Election Forum on Accessibility and Disability. Below are his thoughts on how the forum went:

“Yesterday, there was a forum concerning issues of accessibility and disability. Federal election candidates from various Toronto ridings were present to discuss their party’s platform regarding disability and accessibility.

Mike Sullivan represented the NDP, Arnold Chan. the Liberal Party and Sharon Danley, the Green Party. The conservative party was contacted, but no member volunteered to come and speak to those issues.

 

Federal Election Forum on Accessibility and Disability
A snapshot of the crowd at the forum on Accessibility and Disability
As for the discussion itself, there were several key points that I found intriguing. Primarily, all parties insisted that the largest adversary to the disability/accessibility movement is the Conservative government. Each federal representative said that the largest obstacle to adhering to the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been the Conservative government.

 

All parties, except the Conservatives, have vowed to fulfill its international (and ethical) commitments. Furthermore, the NDP and Green party explicitly stated that they intend to create a national policy on accessibility and disability (Canadian Disabilities Act). Although Arnold Chan also expressed a desire to legislate such an act, he was not able to comment whether it was on the executive’s (Trudeau and his potential cabinet) agenda.

 

Secondly, I was astounded at the depth of the questions. To be clear, this discussion was specifically designed to appeal to persons with disabilities. Some of the questions designed covered topics including a Canadian Disabilities Act (CDA), physician-assisted suicide, a national housing strategy, disability representation in the HoC, adherence to the UN conventions and an increased pressure on provincial governments to administer better services.

 

Each speaker outlined his/her party’s policy concerning the aforementioned issues. Many candidates repeated old adages of “equality of service”, “reducing poverty”, “more consultation with community agencies and persons with disabilities”, “more adaptive equipment” and “an attitudinal shift”. However, both Sullivan and Danley offered more substantive policy changes should their parties be elected. Sullivan expressed his party’s commitment to enact the CDA within a year. Furthermore, the NDP is the only party to have a committee set up to constantly critique the party’s direction. The committee’s job is to meet with community agencies, listen to their advisement and consequently “hold the party’s feet to the fire”, if they alienate stakeholder rights. Alternatively, the Green Party has advocated to design a national equipment fund so that people with disabilities can exercise their right to live independently.

 

Thirdly, I was impressed by the turnout and audience participation. Peoples with disabilities were very well-represented and their questions were very specific to their disability. It was exciting to see such human agency from the group. Such a high attendance of persons with disabilities helped solidified the rights and equality rhetoric that accompanied most of the discussion. There was a wide representation of the disability community including persons who are blind, deaf, using mobility devices, having episodic disabilities, cognitive disabilities, learning disabilities, etc. This stressed upon me the importance to try to remedy the current situation regarding persons with disabilities. As a political party looking to get elected, it not only makes sense to move forward because it is proper (and moral) to have disability rights enshrined in legislation, but also because persons with disabilities represent such a large portion of the vote.

 

Lastly, Ryerson did an excellent job hosting. The adaptive devices allowed for all members of the crowd to participate. In conjunction with the captioning service provided, there were multiple people using both SLQ and ASL to communicate effectively with the deaf audience members. Student volunteers were constantly in the right place to help those with blindness find their seats. There was also one large aisle that allowed mobility devices to go back and forth. Also, I was impressed with the live tweeting of the discussion as this allowed questions to flurry in from Alberta.”

 

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