The Canadians with Disabilities Act

After a week off from the blog, I am back. This past week I had the opportunity and the privilege to speak to a major US company about disability in the workplace. We had a fantastic time in the city of Cleveland (fast becoming one of our favorite destinations south of the border) and the trip will be detailed in next week's blog.

For this week, however, I would like to talk about the need for a federal disability act in Canada. Being in the States for four days served as a stark reminder as to the presence of the Americans with Disabilities Act and how shameful it is that, 26 years after our southern neighbors, Canadians with disabilities are still without federal protection. Firstly, it is important to commend Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet for their action on this front. For the first time ever, I have hope that it will actually get done and that is very exciting to me.

As consultations for this landmark document begin, I would like to offer a few of my own thoughts as to what needs to be included. There are two core elements that need to be there from the start for a federal act on disability to succeed. The first is the voice of disabled people from every generation and walk of life. To their credit, the government seems to be hearing this and will no doubt have several opportunities for the disabled community to offer direct input. But I also think it's important to recognize the use of new media and technologies that are prevalent today. The disabled community, in my book, is among the most active on social media and it is critical that any federal legislation works to capture the spirit of this new generation of advocates.

The second core element is a strong enforcement mechanism to prevent individuals or companies to continue with disability discrimination. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is a decent piece of legislation but it fails because of a lack of enforcement. In my view, legislation without proper tools for enforcement is worse than no legislation in all. It allows the government to hide behind vague potential and flowery language without providing adequate protection on issues that actually matter. Any federal act needs to learn from the mistakes of its predecessors and deliver enforceable defense against the real-life barriers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is certainly not perfect, but it is there. And in my brief stay in Cleveland last week, I noticed its presence. Disability and overall accessibility are more a part of the culture than they are up here. And that is with 26 years of evolution under a federal act. I would like to think that we, the country that has long supported things like a national healthcare system, can get there in less than 26 years. I'll be honest, I do not want to be 57 years old by the time I see the same level of inclusive culture in my home country than I did last week. I call on every level of government, every disabled Canadian and every ally to step up and insist on positive change fast.

Let's give the next generation something to be proud of.