International Persons with Disabilities Day raises awareness for inclusion

By on December 8, 2015


FORT ST. JOHN – For people with disabilities, life can be a challenge. Living in a world that was built for people with full use of their bodies can often times be frustrating, isolating and lonely, with a sense of always being on the outside.

December, 3 marked the 23rd year of International Persons with Disabilities Day and according to BC Federation, this  year’s theme is Inclusion Matters: access and empowerment of people of all abilities.

“Too many political and cultural leaders are still unaware of the challenges experienced by persons with disabilities, and do not acknowledge or include persons with disabilities in their economic, social and political platforms,” said the federation’s statement.

According to Sheryl Burns, persons with disabilities representative with the BC Federation of Labour executive council, part of the problem lies in the way society operates as a whole. She explained that it’s partly do to the way people see or rather don’t see people with disabilities.

“As a society, we tend to forget about issues impacting people with disabilities and that’s a common oversight that we see,” she said during a phone interview in Vancouver.

“In my role, I’m constantly reminding people of our existence and our barriers and challenges and that’s really what international persons with disabilities day is. It’s a reminder that to ensure that we’re included in all aspects of society,” Burns added.

She explained that they often feel excluded whether it’s intentional or not. It happens just by “virtues of the barriers” that exist in society. These barriers, Burns said, also include employment situations.

According to Burns, there is a United Nations convention on persons with disabilities and in March, 2010, Canada signed on although under the Harper government, they did not sign on for the option of protocol.

“That’s very significant because without the optional protocol, people with disabilities don’t really have a clear tool for making complaints

about violations of their rights,” she said.

This means then, if a person was hired for a position and then subsequently let go because of their disability, if the employee decided that they wanted to take their employer to court for wrongful dismissal, the process to fight for their human rights can take years.

According to Burns, people with disabilities also face a higher level of underemployment, or a lack of meaningful employment.

“Often time’s people with multiple disabilities and developmental disabilities are hired under the guise of giving them employment opportunities but they’re actually paid at far less than minimum wage amounts and that’s a very common occurrence,” she said.

According to Jane Dyson, executive director with Disability Alliance BC, based in Vancouver and helps to people gain access to income supports, the day is a way to raise awareness of both the positive achievements and negative aspects for those living with disabilities.  She noted while there are different jobs that come at all levels of responsibility, Dyson said that it is more difficult for people with disabilities to be hired in positions of greater responsibility.

“I think that the business community has come a long way but I think that there’s still an uncertainty and perhaps an insecurity about hiring people with disabilities.

This is exactly the kind of stigma and exclusion that Fort St. John Community Living Association and Work BC is fighting against. By educating employers, they are able to place people with developmental disabilities with jobs that fit their strengths by transforming the workplace. Stan Parker, manager at Safeway, told Northeast News in a previous interview that he enjoys his staff who have disabilities.

They always come to work on time, ready to go and exude an energy that some of  their non-disabled counterparts may lack he said.

While employers are learning the value of hiring people with disabilities, for Burns, there is still much to be done to help those who want to work, find jobs that are fulfilling. She also said an ongoing problem for people tends to be access. Not only are people finding access to employment an issue but also housing and cultural and social enrichment.

“BC income assistance is a major problem for persons with disabilities and even a disability tax credit that is promoted by the federal government is a major problem because you have to be able to prove that you have at least two disabilities to qualify,” she said.

Burns explained when it comes to accessible housing, the problem people with disabilities face is not being able to afford the rental cost of accessible housing and those who don’t have disabilities are living in the buildings.

“They can afford it (the rent) and people with disabilities can’t. So I’ve heard stories of people…opting to live  in very small SROs, single occupancy rooms where they can’t even access the shower or bath so they just simply have sponge baths everyday,” said Burns.

According to Dyson, everyone  who works at Disability Alliance BC has a disability of some sort. While she noted that sometimes it can be tricky at times because some employees need to time off due to health issues, they always find a way to manage.

“We get it together and we make it work,” she said.

I often think, if a little place like us can do that,surely to goodness, businesses that have more money and more resources are also able to do that.”

Julia Lovett

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