Changing the Accessibility Conversation #IDPD 2016

Last night I was out for dinner with my Mom. It was a small space, and it took some time getting a table, so we chatted for a while waiting, and then came in and sat down. It was at this point that something unexpected happened. The young waitress came out with only one menu, hands it to my Mom, and asks if she’ll be ordering for me. There was a split second of stunned silence while my Mom and I processed what just happened before I could say “Excuse me?!”.

The young waitress quickly apologized, and handed me a menu. Later after we ordered our meals, my Mom called the waitress over, and asked her to apologize to her daughter. As inherited as this trait might be, it’s still embarrassing for me when my Mom calls someone out on my behalf, though perhaps not nearly as embarrassing as it was for the waitress.

She did apologize, and explained that she hadn’t interacted with disabled people before. I felt a little empathy towards her at this point, perhaps because I too have been on the receiving end of a Mom Rant, and left her with some disability pointers that I hope she’ll remember. Someone else will be getting an email with the Accessible Customer Service Standard.

If this seems at all shocking for 2016, know that it will likely continue into 2017 as well. Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities #IDPD. Disabled people across the world have been bringing attention to issues like this all day, and for decades. I’m protected with a certain amount of privilege that keeps situations like this away from me most of the time, but many people are not.

Fellow blogger Dave Hingsburger recently posted about a disabled man who was finally given agency and the power to make a major decision about his own life at the age of sixty. This is a must read, beautiful post, bring tissue.

As a disabled person, sometimes it seems like this loss of agency is something we have to live with, but it’s not. Loss of agency has much more to do with the system we live in then it does with us as disabled people. I think this is particularly important when we talk about employment, which happens to be part of the theme for this year’s #IDPD.

Let’s face facts, employers would still prefer to hire an able-bodied, neuro-normative person most of the time, especially when that potential employee is white. These are hard times to find jobs for many people, but white, educated, non-disabled people seem a little more entitled to those jobs, and we need to start talking about that with them.

Like this waitress, when you’re just doing your job, sometimes it’s hard to see the people who’ve become invisible in the process. Not unlike the indigenous peoples in Canada whose rights and traditions suddenly become invisible so our Prime Minister can approve a pipeline, create some temporary work for other people, and leave progressing our economy and environment to somebody else.

The bottom line: if we don’t talk about our agency and our rights, and making those things visible, they will be lost to someone else who is louder and more visible then we are.

So please speak out when you can, if not for you, then do it for the many of us who are still not in the conversation today. Start with writing to your MP. Talk about accessibility, talk about a Canadians with Disabilities Act, talk about pipelines. It’s time the conversation shifted.

Solidarity rally for Caterpillar workers in London, ON – Sat Jan 21

Electro-Motive, a subsidiary of U.S. industrial giant Caterpillar Inc., wants to strong-arm workers at its London plant into a pay cut of over 50 percent, dropping hourly wages from $35 to $16.50. It is also imposing devastating cuts to benefits and pensions on members of CAW Local 27 at a time when the company has enjoyed multi-billion-dollar profits and a 20 percent boost to production over last year.

A day of action has been called by the OFL in solidarity with these workers:

Rally to save City Services and Good Jobs ~ January 17th

City Council will be voting on January 17, 18 and 19 on the 2012 City budget.  At present, there are $85 million in cuts on the table, as well as, a TTC fare hike and increases to recreation user fees.  The budget includes elimination of hundreds of good City jobs – jobs that employ people who deliver vital services in our communities.  As well, the budget includes a 9.8% cut to community grants that enable nonprofit community organizations to provide much-needed programs and services across Toronto.  We need to protect our communities from these harmful cuts.
Please come out to the rally on Tuesday, January 17th at 5:30 p.m.  If you are available at any time on January 17 and 18, please come down to City Hall in Council Chambers to support our city.

For more information about the City budget:

Canadians with Disabilities, it’s Time to Take the Gloves Off

Find out about the march

It’s not a question of if austerity will impact Canadians with disabilities, but a question of when.

We need only look over to the UK for proof. Coalition proposals with see the Disability Living Allowance cut in that country by 20%, pushing those people into increasing poverty. Hate crimes against people with disabilities are also on the rise. Some 47% of people with disabilities say attitudes towards them have worsened over the last year. A recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report concluded that “people with disabilities in the UK face harassment, insult and attack almost as a matter of routine, while a collective denial among police, government and other public bodies means little is done to challenge the situation”.

If you’ve been following disability-related news here in Canada, this situation might seem eerily familiar. With recent provincial elections in Manitoba and Ontario, there is a heightened awareness that healthcare, housing, and disability benefits in those provinces might be headed for the chopping block as the recession drags on. Consider the case of Ontario’s Special Diet benefit. When people started using the benefit regularly to bring their income to a slightly less impoverished level, McGuinty cut it back, making it much more difficult for people with disabilities to access.

In the Ontario provincial election, it was not only social assistance programs, but also accessibility legislation that came under threat. During their campaign the Tories refused to commit to advancing the cause of making Ontario a fully accessible province; they refuse to agree not to cut existing legislation, or to effectively enforce it. Municipal politicians are also unafraid to cut on the backs of people with disabilities. In Toronto, Rob Ford and his cronies have considered putting the accessible transit system and social housing on the chopping block, crucial services for people with disabilities in this city.

Much like people with disabilities in the UK, Canadians have faced high profile disability hate crimes in the past few months. In August, a man who used a wheelchair died four days after being viciously assaulted in his Winnipeg apartment. Toronto has experienced two situations involving police interaction with people with disabilities. In July, Police used handcuffs to restrain a nine-year-old disabled boy who they say “became uncontrollable” at a Toronto daycare centre. Around the same time, a man with a disability was killed during interactions with Toronto police. No one should be dying in police interactions in Toronto!

Perhaps it’s time to take a hint from across the ocean, and fight austerity before it has already won. The situations in Canada and the UK may not be the same, but they are similar. Not only are people with disabilities part of the 99%, they are typically part of the lowest 1% of the 99%. A major reason why we don’t have decent accessible housing is that the Canadian government would rather focus on things like corporate tax breaks…And the fact that 70% of people with disabilities in Ontario can’t find a job while ODSP continues to be the most steadily increasing item in the province’s budget…well that’s a more complicated issue that is partly bigotry and discrimination, and partly that disability organizations that are supposed to be helping us fight back have been pacified, their attention has been too focused on government imposed accessibility standards. We have Canada’s first women with a disability in the official opposition, but people with disabilities are still feeling powerless. History has shown that it’s movements, not legislation, that end discrimination. Since when is a government supposed to tell us which rights to fight for?

In the past two weeks, occupations have sprung up across Canada in support of similar movements in the United States and around the world in solidarity. People with disabilities are among both the occupiers and people who support them. Everyone can play a role in this movement. People with disabilities are bring given accessible supports within the occupation in Toronto that would normally take months to receive in their day-to-day lives.

We’re living in a system that really only pays lip-service to people with disabilities, and doesn’t want people realizing that their struggles are connected, so if this movement wants to change the system, and is putting the needs of people with disabilities on par with the non-disabled, then whatever the outcome, I feel that’s a movement worth supporting.

Please join us on Saturday October 29th, 12pm at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto for the Toronto Disability Pride March. Torontonians with disabilities have a voice, and it’s time we used it.

#Blind Canadians Demand Halt to the Attack on #Employment Equity

News Release August 5, 2010

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) is calling on the Federal Government to stop its attacks on Employment Equity.

“All fair minded Canadians object to recent insinuations that unmerited candidates from equity-seeking groups are taking over all the jobs of ‘qualified white candidates’, thanks to Federal Employment Equity measures”, says John Rae, 1st Vice President of AEBC, a nationwide organization of blind and partially sighted Canadians. “If this were true, statistics would tell us that whites are no longer being hired by the federal public service, but no one has had the gall to suggest this,” adds Rae.

The AEBC Board points to recent statements from two government cabinet ministers. “Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board, has insinuated that the Federal Employment Equity program is barring qualified Canadians from job opportunities in the federal public service. And Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, recently stated that all Canadians should have an ‘equal opportunity to work for their government based on merit, regardless of race or ethnicity’”, says V.P. Rae.

“Employment equity programs are designed to foster merit-based hiring by helping to remove barriers to employment,” states the AEBC Vice President. “They were put in place because all too often, qualified candidates from racialized and disability communities were not being hired because of race or ethnicity. Even today the representation rate for persons with disabilities remains far, far below our percentage of the population.”

The government’s own latest figures show that more women, First Nations peoples and visible minorities worked in the public service last year than the year before, while the low proportion of employed people with disabilities stayed the same.

As of March 2009, women made up 54.7 per cent of the federal workforce, First Nations peoples made up 4.5 per cent, visible minorities made up 9.8 per cent, and people with disabilities made up 5.9 per cent. Yet the percentage of people with disabilities in the population as a whole, is about 14%.

“Employment equity has helped, contrary to the Ministers’ assertions”, Rae continues, “but much more effort is needed to bring more persons with disabilities into the public service of Canada and other workplaces across the country”.

“Rather than attacking programs that have helped, we need a government that puts time and resources into developing new programs aimed at increasing our level of representation in the federal public service and in all other workplaces across Canada”.

For further information, contact:
John Rae, 1st Vice President, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians:

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians is a nationwide organization of Canadians who are blind and partially sighted, whose work focuses on improving public attitudes and providing input on issues of public policy that affect our lives.

#Toronto #Mayoral Candidates Debate #Disability Issues

Peter Athanasopoulos apologized to six mayoral candidates: the wheelchair-accessible cab he ordered had arrived 30 minutes late.

His difficulties reaching a debate on disability issues in Toronto, a city whose subway stations won’t be guaranteed accessible until 2024, underscored Athanasopoulos’s argument transportation is a “huge issue” for people like him.

“I would have taken the subway but the gap was just way too big and it wouldn’t be safe for me,” he added during a debate Tuesday, June 29 in which contenders for mayor clashed over whether to keep group homes apart and how best to move disability issues forward at City Hall.

The city’s Disability Issues Committee, an advisory group that meets four times a year, might not serve that purpose, several candidates suggested at the forum hosted by non-profit groups at the University of Toronto’s Innis College.

“What’s there now is a way to appease the community,” said Giorgio Mammoliti, who suggested a dedicated committee of council could make more substantial changes happen.

If the disability committee is only a “feel good” group, “let’s blow it up,” George Smitherman suggested, but said he’d give the committee more power and make senior staff responsible for achieving its goals.

Smitherman, a former MPP, said the city needs to adopt “more exacting targets” for hiring a diverse workforce, including people with disabilities.

Sarah Thomson, a publisher, said her administration will use remote or work-from-home programs and new technologies to open more municipal jobs to the disabled.

Rob Ford, an Etobicoke councillor and business owner, said financial incentives would encourage companies to hire workers with disabilities. Ford, who often names city spending he considers excessive, said more should be spent on making buildings accessible to the disabled.

“You should spend a lot of money helping these people out.”

Ford also said he sees no need to keep the city’s required 250-metre separation between group homes, adding he doesn’t believe in spreading them out. “If there can be four in a row, why not?”

Joe Pantalone, also a city councillor, said the distance requirements for group homes ensure they are distributed fairly. “If you really believe in spreading the wealth around, if you will, then you got to make sure every neighbourhood has its share of everything,” he said.

“Distance requirements achieve that.”

But Rocco Rossi, a former Liberal Party of Canada president, suggested enforcing such “Byzantine” rules for group homes takes options away from people with disabilities and said he was appalled by Pantalone’s view on spreading them out.

“Where does that end? Does that say every fourth house can be Italian, every third house can be Greek?” he asked.

From the audience, John Rae, vice president of Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, said right-wing candidates like to cut programs and contract them out to the private sector, an approach he warned against. “We in the disabled community know trickle-down economics rarely if ever trickles down to us.”

But later, Rae, though still undecided, said he had been most impressed by the performance of Thomson, the candidate whom Pantalone argued “wants to contract out everything.”

Rae said he was impressed with Thomson’s “no nonsense” support for his suggestion the city should stop purchasing all items that cannot be used by everyone who wants to work for the city.

Meanwhile, Athanasopoulos, part of an earlier event in which Rossi and Smitherman experienced the challenges of using a wheelchair for a day, was wearing a Smitherman button. He said he has seen Smitherman’s work with community organizations, and believes he will solve issues for people with disabilities.

Reproduced from–mayoral-candidates-debate-disability-issues

Why we need to Support #Worker’s #Rights

To most people of my generation, a full time, unionized job with benifits sounds like a pipe dream, let alone a job that will last us until we retire.  Most of us these days are in contract jobs or part-time positions that force us to keep focused on keeping  a job (or finding one) and less on what our rights are as workers.  For young people, particularly people with disabilities, there is an underlying notion that we should feel lucky to even have a job, and basically just suck it up and be a good employee if you want to keep it.

Where did the idea of good jobs go?  Is it just an idea?  There are still good jobs out there, but most of us do not have access.  The methods of governments over the last several decades have privatized public jobs traditionally held by youth, forcing youth to find explotive underpaying jobs.  This limits youth exposure to unions, and there access to information on worker’s rights.

In the case of youth with disabilities, those that do find jobs often do so through employment services that offer low wage, low skill jobs regardless of the person’s education.  The people working for the youth are likely making more than the positions they offer.  Profiting off the backs of young people with disabilities in a nice neat neoliberal view of employability that still maintains the oppression of people with disabilities by treating them like charity cases.

My point is, if we don’t pass down the knowledge of worker’s rights we will lose those rights.  With the older workforce coming into retirement, and a neww work force coming in with little knowledge of their rights or how they were attained, it is the perfect recipe for an exploted young workforce.

These rights were not given to us freely by the good hearts of employees and politicians, they were fought for.  Those coming into the workforce need to learn to fight for themselves, especially those most vulnerable.  Unions are not dead, striking still works, we need to be aware.  There are people profiting off the belief that good jobs for young people are impossible, we’ve been taught to think this way.

There is a particularly strong movement going on in Sudbury right now.  The Vale Inco strike has been called the tipping point that will make or break worker’s  rights in Canada,

A March and Rally is being held on Thursday, April 29th in support of those workers, and to support workers rights in Canada.

Join them at the Sheraton Centre Hotel on Queen Street at 1:15pm, they will be marching to Queens Park for the rally at 2:00 pm.

For more infomation on worker’s rights check out the Young Worker Awareness Program

For more information on the Vaale Inco Strike check out:

Can a Private Member’s Bill Change #ODSP?

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this bill.  This is news to me, and shake the hand of MPP Barrett.  I am a little suspicious that this is a conservative voter grab, and it is a very neoliberal approach to access to work, that still views people with disabilities as burdens that businesses should be tax deducted for hiring, but it`s a step in right direction, possibly.

Since when have they had social justice reporters for the Toronto Star?  I want that job!!!

March 31, 2010

Laurie Monsebraaten

Ontario’s welfare rules condemn disabled people to lives of poverty by squeezing their assets, scooping their child support payments and discouraging them from working, says a Conservative MPP who introduced a private member’s bill Wednesday to address the problem.

Under the bill proposed by MPP Toby Barrett (Haldimand–Norfolk), about 230,000 people on Ontario’s disability support program (ODSP) would see their asset limits double to $12,000, while about 38,000 couples would be allowed to keep up to $20,000. Children could have assets of up to $500 each.

Single parents would no longer have child support payments deduced from their ODSP cheques.

Currently, anyone on welfare who gets a job has 50 cents on every dollar earned deducted from their cheques. But under Barrett’s proposed bill, a disabled person would be allowed to keep up to $700 a month in earnings or $1,000, if the person has a spouse.

To encourage employers to hire people on ODSP, non-refundable tax credits would be available based on up to $10,000 per person in wages paid. The tax credit would be available for a maximum of five employees per business and would amount to about $500 per employee, Barrett said.

“Most of us want to work and it’s a big disincentive if somebody takes half of what you earn away from you,” Barrett said in an interview. “By raising the asset limit, we’ll be helping them save more of what they earn.”

Private member’s bills rarely become law, but Barrett, a member of the Legislature’s sub-committee on finance and economic affairs, said compelling submissions from advocates for the disabled prompted him to act. His bill will be debated April 22.

Kyle Vose, a cancer survivor with HIV who is living on ODSP, welcomed the move.

“Normally one wouldn’t expect the Conservatives to be so open-minded on this. But they seem more liberal-minded than the Liberals these days,” he said, referring to last week’s budget which cancelled an allowance that helps people on ODSP pay extra food costs related to specific medical conditions.

“I just hope something comes of this,” Vose added.

Advocates for the disabled were also pleased. However, they had had hoped the changes would have been introduced by the government in last week’s budget. And they would like to see everyone on welfare benefit from the proposed changes and not just the disabled.

“We’ve been advocating for rule changes like these for many years,” said community legal worker Nancy Vander Plaats, co-chair of the ODSP Action Committee. “It’s good to see this coming before the Legislature.”

Barrett’s proposed changes to welfare assets and earnings rules are among a list of 13 interim measures suggested by the government’s social assistance advisory council. The council was set up by Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur last December to craft terms of reference for a promised review of Ontario’s welfare system, expected later this year.

But after last week’s budget, Meilleur said she could act only on welfare rules concerning gifts, shared accommodation, financial windfalls and suspensions. The council’s other proposed changes – including asset and earnings exemptions—would be too costly for a province facing a $21.3 billion deficit, she said.

As of February, more than 830,000 Ontarians relied on social assistance, including about 371,000 on ODSP and 460,000 Ontario Works.

#Equity: are #Canadians really paying attention?

Recently I was watching Jack Layton on The Hour when he brought up the subject of putting Pay Equity back on the Canadian federal agenda.  What’s interesting about this is that in Ontario at least, pay equity has supposidly been in place since 1987, but it hasn’t really happened.

Now with all due respect to Jack Layton, who to me is the more enlightened of the three old white men that represent the three key parties in Canada, I think he had a convenient episode of political amnesia during that interview. With women and children being the new issue Harper’s using to cover up his latest disgraces, I can see why Layton would bring this up, but what troubles me is the money that could potentially be wasted reinventing the wheel.

New Brunswick already has an excellent 5 year Wage Gap Strategy (pdf) scheduled to be complete this year, and Quebec has strong pay equity as well.  Ontario is starving for the dollars that were stolen from the Pay Equity Commission by the Harris Cuts.  Why not support the provinces and territories, rather than trying to enforce this one size fits all approach?

I’m sure you’ll be hearing more on this from me later; this spontanious focus on women and children is really grinding my gears.  It’ll be interesting to see which women and children make it into the political spotlight in the months ahead.

SIDENOTE TO THE DISABLED COMMUNITY: Wouldn’t this be a great time address the rights of women with disabilities? Say at the G20 in Toronto??? (please comment if interested)

If you’d like to find out more about equity in Canada check out some of these other sites:

The Canadian Human Rights Commission

The Ontario Women’s Directorate … and I’m sure there are others

You can also watch the human rights summit live at this website February 17th to 19th: