'A lot of disappointment': Little talk about accessibility during campaign
TORONTO -- Famous Canadian Rick Hansen is among those wondering why accessibility has not become a more prominent campaign issue.
Hansen is the founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation and is best known for his Man in Motion Tour, in which he travelled around the world using his wheelchair in 1985 to raise money for spinal cord research and accessibility initiatives.
Hansen has noticed a lack of discussion on accessibility issues thus far in the campaign.
“There is a lot of disappointment that a lot of people with disabilities haven’t been fundamentally included and/or addressed during this election campaign,” he told CTV News.
“Accessibility is a big deal for Canada and they really should be thinking about what it means from a values point of view, from a human rights perspective, but also from an economy and cultural value proposition.”
According to Statistics Canada’s 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, 6.2 million Canadians over the age of 15 identify as having at least one disability.
Canadians with disabilities suffer from significantly higher rates of unemployment compared to Canadians without a disability and earn up to 51 per cent less than those without a disability.
“(These people are) ready to vote and boy, if you are looking at a tight race, this is an area you should pay attention to,” Hansen said.
This summer, the Canadian government passed Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, which aims to remove and prevent any barriers to accessibility that fall under federal jurisdiction, including banks, interprovincial travel and telecommunications.
Despite the bill’s bipartisan support, some people with disabilities now wonder how party leaders will actually act on it.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Thursday touted his record on accessibility, saying his party has “worked harder on accessibility issues in Canada and for Canadians than any previous government.”
The Liberals have pledged $40 million annually to create a national workplace accessibility fund, which the party says would allow small and medium-sized business to become more accessible.
For their part, both Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have also committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities. The Conservatives have pledged to reduce the amount of life-sustaining therapy needed to qualify for the Disability Tax Credit from 14 hours per week to 10, which the party says will help 35,000 Canadians.
“We're absolutely committed to improving lives for people with disabilities,” Scheer told reporters.
An NDP government would review income security programs to find ways to address the higher rates of poverty among people with disabilities and would expand employment programs for people with disabilities.
Despite these pledges, some people with disabilities feel left out of the federal conversation.
“If they really wanted to help, I feel they would address more problems, like not taxing their pension plans, which are very low,” said Suzy Harrison, whose husband Rick is a quadriplegic.
Chantal Oakes, who is legally blind, also feels ignored and wants to see advancements in employment and housing.
“We are not asking for privileges as people with disabilities, we are asking that our rights are respected as Canadians,” she said. “We don’t want to come in last all the time.”