International Day of Persons with Disabilities

December 3rd, 2013 by Dan Allan

December 3 is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Celebrated by the United Nations since 1992, the day “provides an opportunity to further raise awareness of disability and accessibility” and “further the global efforts to promote accessibility, remove all types of barriers, and to realize the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society.”

Here are some examples of how legislatures across Canada have made efforts to increase accessibility:

  • Nova Scotia: Rookie MLA Kevin Murphy made history when he was chosen to be the first paraplegic Speaker of the Nova Scotia legislature this fall. Renovations were completed to add a ramp to the Speaker’s dais and all MLA offices in the province must now be wheelchair accessible after a new rule was approved by a legislature committee in August.
  • British Columbia: The British Columbia legislature opened a new wheelchair entrance this past March to improve access for those with disabilities. Former Paralympian Michelle Stilwell and quadriplegic former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan were elected in the May 2013 election, and paraplegic Stephanie Cadieux – first elected in 2009 – was re-elected.
  • Alberta: MLA Heather Forsyth, who has hearing loss, brought a service dog into a provincial legislature for the first time in Canada last month. Quadriplegic MLA Kent Hehr also currently serves in the legislature.
  • Ontario: Lieutenant-Governor David Onley is paralyzed after a childhood battle with polio. Onley uses a scooter, and the side door to the Ontario legislature was renovated to allow him an accessible entrance to the building. MPP Gary Malkowski, who served in the Ontario legislature from 1990 to 1995,  was Canada’s first deaf parliamentarian. A law was passed to allow sign language interpreters on the floor of the legislature, and Malkowski became the first deaf parliamentarian in the world to address a legislature in sign language.
  • Federal: Elected in 2004, MP Steven Fletcher is the first quadriplegic to serve in the House of Commons. Parliament was renovated and his election led to the creation of the “Stranger to the House” position, where a personal aide is permitted on the floor of the House despite not being an MP, an Officer of the House or a parliamentary page.

Do you have an example from your local or provincial government we should include? Please let us know!

We have also taken steps to make our programming more accessible. In partnership with Elections Ontario, we worked with W. Ross MacDonald School for the Visually Impaired and Deafblind and E.C. Drury School for the Deaf  on a special pilot project during the 2011 Ontario Student Vote program that ensured the program was available for all students in the province. Here’s a video summary:

Visit the United Nations’ Enable website for more information and ways to get involved in the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Posted in Special Events |

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