December 3 is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. On this December 3, the global celebration has an appropriate theme, “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development”. Some people are unaware of a global mandate to achieve accessibility, and may feel isolated when their specific jurisdiction introduces new laws benefitting people with disabilities. Understanding we are all moving in the same direction, albeit using varying methods and timelines, is important when making decisions in your organization.
First Reference Talks‘ archives include articles exposing the positive economic projections of an accessible movement. Positive financial projections are a major motivator, as are the aging population demographics of many nations, but a great catalyst is to know we are not alone, and that it is becoming commonplace around the globe to provide a basic level of accessibility. In order to compete on the international front, our social environment and culture must scream that our country is accessible and inviting to all. Otherwise, our Canadian image may be labelled as the Rocky Mountains of the world, a place to climb, huff and puff our way through the environment.
This year’s theme for December 3 is about remembering to include accessibility in development, thereby not causing new barriers. To date, Canada and 105 other countries have signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNGA-06). The Government of Canada is working with the provinces and territories to meet goals as set out in this convention. Instead of paraphrasing specific sections of the convention, reading the original literature may have a greater impact. First, there are eight guiding principles of the convention that underlie each of the specific articles.
Article 3 – General Principles
- Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons
- Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
- Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
- Equality of opportunity
- Equality between men and women
- Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities
Article 9 of the convention clarifies which topics require accessibility to take into account in order to achieve inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
Article 9 – Accessibility
1. To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:
a) Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces;
b) Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.
2. States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to:
a) Develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public;
b) Ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities;
c) Provide training for stakeholders on accessibility issues facing persons with disabilities;
d) Provide in buildings and other facilities open to the public signage in Braille and in easy to read and understand forms;
e) Provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public;
f) Promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to persons with disabilities to ensure their access to information;
g) Promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet;
h) Promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost.
Many readers are aware that Ontario has been the focus of much attention because of its Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The goal of the AODA and its associated regulations is to identify and remove barriers, and to avoid creating new barriers in the future. The law imagines Ontario as an accessible province by the year 2025. As Ontarians read and learn the provincial regulations and the UN convention, they may recognize that the work set out mirrors the goals Canada has agreed to achieve in the United Nations.
I see this movement as not just the right thing to do, but also a necessary action to stimulate economic recovery. This stimulus is not to promote antiquated ideas, but to create an environment everyone will benefit from. Dare I say that the movements to have an accessible environment for people with disabilities may be the exact economic stimulus required, placing all of us on the road to recovery?
Dear politicians, please act proud of this endeavour, do not fear it as an election loser topic. Get those spin doctors spinning this topic the right way. Be loud and clear that accessibility is as vital as the air we breathe. Happy December 3!
Suzanne Share M.A.
CEO, Access (SCS) Consulting Services