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There are approximately 6.2 million Canadians over the age of 15 who are living with a disability that limits them in their daily lives. This is a significant amount of people who were left feeling disappointed and neglected by the politicians that were trying to represent them.
Unemployment rates are substantially higher for Canadians with disabilities, and they often earn almost 50% less than Canadians without a disability. The 2019 federal election was an opportunity for party leaders to advocate for accessibility improvements in Canada, yet not a single candidate chose to champion this cause and make accessibility a priority within their platform. People with disabilities are not asking for unrealistic privileges or advantages; they are simply asking that their rights as Canadians are respected and prioritized. There are Canadians who face accessibility barriers on a daily basis, through a lack of usability of websites and inaccessible public spaces. This is of great concern for a large population of Canadians, one that should have been addressed during the election.
In May 2019, Canada’s Parliament unanimously passed Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act. The purpose of Bill C-81 is to make Canada barrier-free by 2040, as well as preventing and removing any barriers to accessibility wherever Canadians interact; falling under federal jurisdiction. This includes banking institutions, telecommunications, travel and transportation, as well as within the Government of Canada. The Accessible Canada Act ensures that there are measures in place for compliance and enforcement. Did politicians think that the passing of Bill C-81 was enough?
Throughout the 2019 federal election campaign, there was ample opportunity for the party leaders to differentiate themselves by discussing their strategies to achieve the goals of the Accessible Canada Act. This election campaign could have been an opportunity for party leaders and politicians to make an impression on this particular 22% of voters. This was also an opportunity for politicians to make their desire to promote and support Bill C-81. Unfortunately, months after Bill C-81 has been passed, most of the parties have not spoken much about how they will seek to support the bill to ensure its effectiveness.
The Accessible Canada Act is a massive step towards making Canada barrier-free; however, changes need to be made to the bill to strengthen it. The Liberal Party had no plans to amend Bill C-81 during the election campaign, however, with a minority government, the door has been opened to legislative amendments that will make the bill effective in its implementation and enforcement.
Historically, the Conservative and NDP party leaders have all made commitments to improving the lives of people with disabilities and the Liberal party leader has claimed to have “worked harder on accessibility issues in Canada and for Canadians, than any previous government.” Despite these commitments and past accessibility improvements, people with disabilities need and expect more from their government. Implementing a national accessibility action plan that would support and strengthen Bill C-81, and committing to not create additional barriers for people with disabilities, are two examples of how the Government of Canada can improve the lives of those living with disabilities. The election is over, however, it is not too late for Canada’s newly elected and re-elected politicians to stand up for accessibility!
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