Community Comment by Jewelles Smith
December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As a disability human rights activist, the past couple of years have been a rollercoaster of gains and losses. On the plus side, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in March 2010. I was fortunate enough to meet several of Canada’s representatives who worked tirelessly for years on the convention’s language. These amazing men and women believed strongly it was time to recognize the rights of all persons on this planet, including those who live with disabilities. If you haven’t read the CRPD, I highly recommend you take the time, you can find it online at: http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?navid=14&pid=150.
This year’s theme for International Day of Person’s with Disabilities: “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development” reflects the continued failure of so many programs and the resulting exclusion and isolation that so many disabled people still experience. Approximately 15 per cent of the Canadian population is comprised of persons with disabilities yet too often disabled persons are not visibly active in our community. Considering the sad state of disability supports and awareness in our province, I believe it is about time that the British Columbian government included disabled persons at all levels of program development. If the B.C. government had the voice of the disability community at every level of service and structure development, many costly and inappropriate mistakes could be avoided. From scandals related to Community Living BC to cuts to funding of services for persons with disabilities who rely on PWD social assistance, the past couple of years have not lived up to the hope that the disabled community felt when Canada ratified the International UN Treaty.
In our own community we have seen the closure of a group home. Reliance on the food bank and other community charities continues to rise for individuals on fixed incomes. It is shameful that some people in our community pay 75 per cent or more of their income on housing. The cuts that the B.C. government has been making are short sighted and too often made by individuals who have no working knowledge of the complex needs of the people affected.
In signing this International Treaty, Canada’s leaders agreed to abide by the rights as outlined in the convention. Unfortunately, B.C. has been in the news often lately for not providing equal services for members of our community who live with disabilities. Shortly after Canada signed the (CRPD) in March 2011, British Columbia disgracefully initiated a series of cuts and restrictions for individuals who rely on provincial disability benefits. As the CLBC restructures, many are hoping that the organization includes the voice of disabled users of the program and their families in the changes.
Hope, however, is not enough.
We can make a concerted effort to include disabled people at all levels of development. When making decisions on service changes (whether cuts or additions) look around, do you see representatives from the community affected? From constructing public spaces and organizing events, to sidewalk repairs and bus schedules, invite and include representatives from the entire community. In educating our children, take the time to talk about inclusion, disability and diversity. If we raise our children to be inclusive and sensitive to difference, they will grow up to become thoughtful aware and inclusive adults.
Days like December 3 give us an opportunity to take scope of where we are at as a community. Human Rights are not negotiable. Taking time to participate in an Awareness Campaign may seem daunting but in fact, actions can be as small as educating yourself and your family on a topic that is unfamiliar. Each of us is only one accident or illness away from disability. Many of us will become disabled as we age. We may have children born with disabilities. Mental health can change at any time.
I spent the last week trying to get a handle on the community and activism. What I have realized is that activism in Revelstoke is alive and well. It does not declare itself with bullhorns and great big marches. The activism I have witnessed in this community is quietly taking place behind the scenes: moments at the food bank when a volunteer acknowledges each person by name and checks in with them as to how they are doing; the concern that teachers and support staff give to each child in their class and school; the outreach of the women’s shelter staff; the unease voiced by staff at the local papers when community resources are closed. Activism in a small community is direct and the roots of nation-wide change.
Jewelles Smith is a Revelstoke-based freelance human rights researcher, writer and activist with DAWN-RAFH Canada (DisAbled Women’s Network).
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