My Word!


A New Era for National Access Awareness Week

Something extraordinary happened in Montreal on October 16 and 17…

A group of about 30 people from varying backgrounds and vocations cloistered together for the weekend to discuss the fate of National Access Awareness Week (NAAW). Present were people with a variety of disabilities, representatives from several national organizations on disability, social policy innovators, corporate representatives and government bureaucrats. Such a meeting being convened was not, of itself, unusual — and certainly, a multi-disciplinary group getting together to discuss what had, within a relatively short period of time, become a borderline stodgy old institution was not at all unusual. What made this particular gathering somewhat special is that everybody there, somehow, without any discussion or prior agreement, seemed to shed their traditional way of looking at things (i.e. the way which perhaps most served themselves and their own constituency) and tried on what might best be described as a “collective perspective.”

Consider, if you will, the dynamics emanating from this collective perspective: a vibrant mix of disability activists and organizational representatives (being sometimes, of course, one and the same people); huge corporations such as Air Canada, Canada Post, CTV, Canadian National, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada, Royal Bank and Stentor re-committing to the vision of “a Canada for everyone” and re-committing their representatives as partners in the process, both nationally and at the level of local communities; and federal government bureaucrats from the Disabled Persons Secretariat of Human Resources Development giving up control of a national institution in order to facilitate the management and control of this institution by the community — while continuing to maintain a commitment to the process both financially and as a partner … all players setting cynicism aside to move the notion of NAAW’s six theme areas forward!

Consider, too, the scope of this meeting. Present in one way or another were spokespersons from virtually every national consumer organization, representing the complete spectrum of disabilities.

Anybody who has ever spent time at a cross-disability, cross-organizational, cross-anything meeting knows that trying to reach agreement, let alone consensus, on anything is something more than a challenge. But somehow the collective perspective allowed for more than just a little fresh air. The perspective decreed that NAAW, in addition to being a celebration of progress in the six theme areas of Communication, Transportation, Housing, Employment, Recreation and Education, has real potential as a vehicle for encouraging individuals, communities, provinces — indeed, the whole country — to take true stock of what has been accomplished, and what remains to be done in establishing a truly inclusive society for all Canadians, including raising awareness of existing barriers to full participation — and identifying the means of permanently removing them!

In other words, the consensus was that NAAW should continue, and that it requires some fundamental changes in order to thrive, changes which had been recommended by a previously appointed Transition Team and were now to be handed on to a new Management Committee for consideration and implementation.

The new Management Committee of NAAW includes Traci Walters (CAILC), Chairperson, Lori Dolomont (CAD), Vice-chair, Rob McInnes (CCRW), Treasurer, and members Marlene Juell (CCD), June Delisle (NAND), Lil Kristic (STENTOR) and Bruce Clark (HRDC).
This group, consisting of a majority of people with disabilities, including representatives from stakeholder organizations, the corporate community and governments, now has before it the task of a major transition of NAAW from government to community — a transition which should culminate in a more dynamic, more impactful and much more inclusive National Access Awareness Week than this country has seen since the inception of NAAW eight years ago.

In the next issue of ABILITIES we will bring you more news on NAAW, the work of its new governing body, and opportunities for your involvement.

This issue we address “Improving Social Security in Canada” (page 28), the discussion paper recently presented by Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Human Resources Development.

Changes to the social safety net will impact directly on most people with disabilities. Only your direct involvement will ensure protection of your interests. For this reason we have chosen to present our readers with very relevant information from “Improving Social Security in Canada” along with practical perspectives from selected knowledgeable individuals and organizations. Also don’t miss the Council of Canadians with Disabilities’ perspective on social policy reform, page 55 of this issue.

It is crucial that the Ministry of Human Resources Development hears what you have to say about the social safety net. A toll-free line has been established in order to facilitate information and take your comments and/or requests for copies of the discussion paper and other publications. The phone number to call is 1-800-735-3551.


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