A Path Forward: Advancing Disability Inclusion
In Canada, an extensive system of laws, regulations, and programs exists to promote the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities—a growing and diverse group that currently makes up roughly a quarter of the population or more. These policies, hard-won through considerable community-driven efforts over many decades, have positioned Canada among nations leading the way in disability inclusion. That said, delivery of the objectives is a work-in-progress.
Persons with disabilities in Canada continue to face concerning levels of exclusion from society and limits on their human potential. Canadians with disabilities have lower levels of educational attainment and labour market participation than those without disabilities, are disproportionately represented among people living in poverty and those experiencing homelessness, and continue to be subjected to widespread discrimination and human rights violations.
There are a number of interrelated and systemic barriers that have and continue to hinder progress in achieving greater inclusion. A central concern is the narrow way disability is defined and understood—with a bias towards physical, constant, and worsening conditions—which determines who receives support or how accessible spaces are conceived. A connected challenge has to do with the “impenetrable” complexity of the disability support system, which has been deemed unfair and inadequate for far too long. And though new accessibility legislation has been introduced in jurisdictions across Canada, there is also apprehension surrounding the likelihood of these laws to meet ambitious goals of becoming a barrier-free nation by 2040, as stated in the Accessible Canada Act 2019.
A general lack of public awareness and entrenched misconceptions around disability permeate these challenges. From poor design of buildings or technology to unfounded beliefs about the employability of persons with disabilities or related accommodation costs, a lack of knowledge and attitudinal barriers continually slow forward momentum. A further complicating factor is the ever-changing nature of our world, which continuously erects or removes barriers or shifts our understanding of disability.
Given the current status of persons with disabilities in Canada, it is clear that existing systems and approaches are not yet meeting real needs, and are insufficiently responsive to keep up with the pace of change. Encouragingly, there have been significant legislative developments from both federal and provincial governments on these fronts. These include the ACA, the forthcoming Canada Disability Benefit, and new accessibility legislation in five provinces, all of which indicates a strong commitment to a more inclusive and accessible future.
To better position Canada to meet its goals, this report recommends that governments adopt a new approach to disability inclusion. This new approach would involve taking a more holistic and rights-based view of disability, applying greater focus on early intervention efforts within education systems, building a strong foundation of intergovernmental cooperation, and modernizing policy and programs to reflect the lived experience of those with disabilities. Though ensuring meaningful disability inclusion will necessarily require long-term effort and collaboration from various partners such as the private sector, individuals, and the non-profit community, the report focuses on foundational and systemic solutions that governments have the unique ability to implement.
Reprinted from A Path Forward: Advancing Disability Inclusion in Canada – a policy paper published by the CSA Public Policy Centre, written by Jordann Thirgood, Manager, Public Policy and Nevena Dragicevic, Manager, Public Policy. Download the report at https://www.csagroup.org/article/public-policy/a-path-forward-advancing-disability-inclusion-in-canada/.