Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Advocacy groups and Ontario's election

In theory the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) should ensure accessibility remains a top priority in this province. Yet with little attention paid to disability and access issues throughout the election campaign, it appears the parties, and their leaders, are not getting the message.

The conservative party has refused to even commit to making Ontario fully accessible. They have also failed to agree not cut within those areas disabled Ontarians have made gains. Although this certainly speaks to the priorities, or lack thereof of the conservative party, these frustrating realities also speaks to how marginal the needs of disabled and poor in Ontario have become.

To be certain the focus on "working families" throughout this election campaign has all but excluded the needs of the poor and those falling through the cracks in this province. Indeed, advocacy groups have struggled to have their voices heard during this election campaign. While the above article theorizes why this may be (including political disengagement and the deficit), there is an urgent need to address these issues. Some of the efforts of advocacy groups throughout this election campaign are listed towards the end of this article. ARCH disability law Centre has also outlined some important election issues in their most recent ARCH Alert. Finally, the ODSP Coalition has compiled the following document outlining party responses to specific inquiries around issues related to poverty and ODSP. The lack of commitment from both the Liberals and Conservatives on some of the most pressing issues for ODSP recipients is discouraging.

While the election itself may have ignored these issues, what is certain is that this will not stop the work of advocates and the groups that represent them from continuing to push forward and demand a more equitable Ontario for all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ontario must do better

A recent article in the Windsor Star - "Disabled seek voice in vote"- highlights many of the issue facing adults with disabilities in this province. For many, elections are a time to remind those begging for votes that strong and progressive social policies do in fact matter. Indeed, it is time for real and progressive action in this province around disability issues.

For many persons with disabilities, moving into the adult world of disability supports means losing access to a significant number of supports and services (although services for school aged children have certainly not been immune to cuts). As this article illustrates, for many young adults with disabilities this means long waiting lists to access even the most basic supports, isolation and exclusion, and inadequate support from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

Yet despite these troubling realities, persons with disabilities in Ontario continue to face cuts to necessary services and supports. Recent reports around the impact of cuts to Ontario's special diet program illustrate this. Little, outside community demands, is being said about the sate of disability supports and services during this election campaign. Simply put, persons with disabilities in Ontario deserve better.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More on the election and accessibility

I've had some great feedback after my last post with leads on more election resources.

For more information about electoral participation and persons with disabilities, check out Michael Prince's working paper for Elections Canada.

Election Ontario has also eliminated the barrier created by permanent address and identification requirements. Voters can now use a temporary form of identification called the "Certificate of Identity and Residence" which lists community facilities, like shelters or food banks, as residence. These certificates do require a signature of a facility representative (as well as the voter).

Ontario AIDS network has put together an excellent strategy for raising HIV/ AIDS issues during this election. This strategy includes a thorough backgrounder, suggested questions for candidates, and opportunities to raise the profile of issues during this campaign.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Accessible electoral process?

While I was at IL Canada we produced several fact sheets about issues that were important to the disability community, including a fact sheet about the political rights of persons with disabilities. This fact sheet outlines some of the barriers facing voters with disabilities.

With Ontario's provincial election fast approaching, questions around accessibility and the voting process are again a priority for the disability community. According to Elections Ontario, some voters in Ontario will have the opportunity to access technologies that will enable a more independence at the polls. These technologies are in addition to existing measures to help make voting more accessible.

While these technologies are a welcome addition to a process that has remained inaccessible for many voters, we must keep in mind that this latest initiative will only be available 147 returning offices, and that political engagement extends beyond just the ballot box. Indeed, we need to continue to push for a process which ensures accessibility throughout the political process (i.e. campaign material in accessible formats, accessible venues for political debates, accessible transportation, the inclusion of disability issues in public debates etc.).

For more information about the candidates and history of your riding, check out the CBC's handy elections tool, and do insist local candidates, campaigns, and events are fully accessible.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The problem with sheltered workshops

There is a lot of debate around sheltered workshops and arguments in favour of these sites stress the 'valuable' experiences persons with intellectual disabilities gain through these kinds of experiences. Yet despite these claims research around employment for persons with disabilities continues to highlight the problematic nature of these sites as well as the clear benefits of more equitable employment arrangements.

The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) recently published "Segregated & Exploited" - an extensive analysis of sheltered employment and the needs of persons with disabilities. Highlights of their study include:

* The presence of sheltered work contradicts existing policies and legislation that promote equality and inclusion;

* Sheltered work is isolating and marginalizes employees with disabilities;

* While employers benefit by not having to pay employees with disabilities the minimum wage, the conditions of this kind of 'employment' reinforce poverty for persons with disabilities (a group already experiencing disproportionate rates of poverty and economic isolation);

* Despite the promise of skills development, these kinds of experiences do not help individuals develop transferable skills.

I'll continue to post research and advocacy that is relevant to this debate as well as the findings of my own research around the unpaid contributions of persons with intellectual disabilities. The NDRN study is a great starting point to understand the concerns of advocates and allies around sheltered work.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Discriminatory employment practices for persons with disabilities

For those of us who are interested in disability and employment issues it comes as no surprise that disabled employees continue to be discriminated against. However, I was shocked to learn that in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, special permits exist that allow employers to pay employees with disabilities below the minimum wage. While this has been the case for years with respect to sheltered work and other vocational programs ('participants' are not entitled to the minimum wage because their labour is classified as rehabilitation and/or training), these three provinces seem to feel disabled employees are not entitled to at least minimum wage. Check out this recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press by University of Ottawa professor Ravi Malhotra to learn to more.