Let's "boldly go where others have gone before"

First published in Hamilton Spectator August 26, 2000

When promises are made and kept, it creates a healthier environment, whether it is in the family, in the work place or in the province. Unrest and social mistrust occur and even grow when promises aren't kept. In political terms, this is a major event and can make or break any government. Yes, it seems that we are never really pleased with the people that we elect to office. I am not sure our dissatisfaction has enough significance to build a case against the governing party. Probably we could fill many newspapers on countless issues that we think our government should or shouldn't be doing. I would say right now that I am not a political animal. I believe that God's hand is controlling the nations down throughout history. At the same time I must say that I deeply believe that our heads of governments are charged with the responsibility to encourage and set in place legislation that will benefit all the people.

It is crucial that we have laws and standards that foster and allow all individuals to be integrated into the mainstream of community life. It is a well known fact that when citizens have access to services that allow them to fully participate in their world, the healthier and more productive they become. This circumstance would create reduced medical and social assistance payouts for governments. Specifically I am referring to an Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) that is needed here in Ontario. Activists have been lobbying the present provincial government for such an act for many years but are still waiting for legislation to be enacted despite promises made by the government in power.

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee is a province-wide, voluntary and non-partisan coalition of people with disabilities, their friends and families and many major disability organizations in Ontario. The Committee wants this province to become a barrier-free society for the 1.5 million Ontarians who have a disability. It wants all people with disabilities to be able to participate fully in all aspects of life in this province. Such an act would provide improved access, opportunities, and services to those in need. It would also benefit the whole population including those with all types of disabilities - resulting from birth or accidents, through to issues of the elderly. Everyone, disabled or not, needs to have appropriate access to housing, employment, transportation, and medical care. Find out more by contacting the ODA Committee at (416) 480-7012 or www.indie.ca/oda.

A severely-impaired nonverbal woman I know recently struggled to communicate to her friend how empowered she felt directing her own attendant care. She was 21 years old and just amazed at her new found skill. What does this have to do with this topic, you may be asking yourself - EVERYTHING I am afraid. The actions and non-actions that our provincial and federal government take directly affect any person with a disability. You might be thinking this is true for all people but he difference is that "normal" people can more easily alter their environment and lifestyle to cope and adapt. The story is very different for many disabled individuals. Their quality of life depends on the strength of legislation passed by our government. When funding to social services is cut, that personal care attendant who comes in to help them get up, dress, toilet, shower and prepare meals could be out of a job. This situation would force the disabled person's whole lifestyle to change dramatically. Their life would be impoverished to an unbearable degree.

A bumper sticker sums up the legislation that we need in Ontario: "To boldly go where others have gone before." In a province really blessed beyond measure, it is simple common sense to build a society whose workplaces, goods, services, and facilities will be designed and operated for all its citizens, including those with disabilities. An effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act would lead to a society in which people with disabilities can participate fully - a society where existing barriers have been identified and removed, and where new barriers are prevented before they arise.

The government promised to enact the ODA in their first term, but have never kept that promise, even though they are well into their second term. A by-election is taking place in our region with candidates Priscilla de Villiers (PC), Ted McMeekin (Lib), and Jessica Brennan (NDP). Phone or visit them to talk about the need for a strong and effective ODA.

Let's build a better today so tomorrow will be a fully barrier-free place for all.

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