Disability issues absent from platforms
On ableism in Canada and during election cycles
When I first came to campus in 2011 I joked that campus politicians, when asked what a platform was, were more likely to tell you it was a type of shoe than to give you a legitimate answer. Now that we inch ever closer to the federal election and no major party is prioritizing disability issues, I’m tempted to say the same of our off-campus glad-handers.
Disability has been in the news plenty recently. From a wider perspective, the issues facing the Humboldt Broncos who survived (including the one getting trotted around as an Adidas and media plaything until he is now longer of any monetary value), are a disability issue. The persistent lack of funding to programs like Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) is being overshadowed by the awfulness that is the Conservatives, the hypocrisy that is the Liberals, the fence-sitters that are the NDP, the willfully one dimensional party that wears green, and the outright awful cronies of Mr. Bernier.
Macleans’ recent election primer had every election issue under the sun segmented away into palatable pieces, except for one. Disabled people make up twenty per cent of the world’s population, but are given very little air time. We have very few (disabled identifying) politicians with the notable exception of Canada’s Carla Qualtrough, American Tammy Duckworth, and Australia’s Jordon Steele-John. We live in a world where one of my friends had to sue Utah’s Republican’s because at their convention, and I kid you not, your vote only counted if you were able to stand up.
We live in an ableist world and no one is talking about disability issues. The new Accessible Canada Act is a toothless piece of legislation save for the acknowledgement of Canada’s sign languages as official languages for d/Deaf Canadians. The act, meant to support those with disabilities in Canada, makes promises towards making all federally regulated buildings accessible.
Disability advocates, many of us wary, are cautiously optimistic that the act will make a change. However, I don’t think any group of people should have to be cautiously optimistic about their own human rights. Disability supports for those who live in areas that aren’t densely populated (read: major cities) have been left out in the cold for decades.
In Saskatchewan, there are almost no organizations meant to serve disabled people that are led by those with lived experience, and the very act of voting is inaccessible for thousands of Canadians, whether it be because of untrained staff, transportation limitations, inaccessible ballot procedures, or the precarity of a person’s health on election day.
All of this might be burying the most shocking point: disabled Canadians did not obtain their full right to vote until the year I was born. Now, I know I might seem like I’ve been on campus forever, but I was born in 1993. We are still in an era where, despite some organizations’ claims, we have a province and a country built on the institutionalization of disabled people. I can’t help but feel as if our society consistently asks those of us with disabilities, “If you have to be crippled can you at least be quiet.” Not fully giving us the right to vote was a way to silence those who fought against the cause – how convenient.
Also of political interest is the fact that some of the biggest political movements and issues at the forefront of this election are using strategies created by disabled people to make their point heard. The recent “die-in” staged at the Legislature to protest against our political elite’s lack of progress on climate change can find its roots in American activists who crawled up the steps of the US Capitol building to fight for the Americans with Disabilities Act, some of the strongest (though still flawed and under enforced) disability civil rights legislation in the world.
That Canada considers itself a progress country – to which I say, go tell that to Indigenous people, to new immigrants, to the descendants of Black Canadians who were discriminated against after fleeing slavery in the US, tell that to the face of water warriors who we continue to ignore, to those who are told “We don’t hire people like you here.” – and yet, we are sorely lagging behind a piece of legislation that our greatest allies (for better or for worse) were forced into signing under a right-wing government under duress from under privileged activists.
The die-In model is now being used by this generation of American disabled activists to resist health care changes that are, quite literally, killing people. If there’s one absolute truth about disabled people it’s that we don’t exist quietly, even if our politicians would prefer otherwise.
So, when you are asked by a political candidate what issue you think is important please think of 20 per cent of the population, of whom 60 per cent are unemployed or underemployed; think of your grandparents who live with disability; think of the atrocious rates of assault against disabled people; of those with disabilities being forced into seclusion rooms in schools; of the organizations who have decided that Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is the answer to supporting autistic people and not the hate crime that many with autism consider it to be; think of us and ask the person at your door what they intend to do about the system issues that continue to face disabled Canadians.
If you want to change things on a smaller political level, ask upper level administration led by a president who holds a PhD related to inclusive education why there are only two fully accessible bathrooms on campus. Ask why the university created a promotional video with an ASL interpreter when the city only has two to offer. Ask why the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ office was renovated rather recently and still doesn’t have an accessible door. There are a million ways we can make our world accessible and it is an eternal piss-off that our national politicians have decided that they are not particularly interested.