Parliament Hill. Not just a tourist destination, the place where democracy lives.
I grew up in Ottawa, I’m raising my daughter here, and I’m a second generation public servant. I know how decisions are made and how long it takes to make change. So it’s especially meaningful to find out that an issue I care about, live with, and advocate for is being advanced here. That issue is accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities — something I am personally and professionally invested in.
The Government of Canada is currently determining the fate of its new federal accessibility legislation, the proposed Accessible Canada Act: An Act to Ensure a Barrier-free Canada (Bill C-81). It’s designed to remove barriers for people with disabilities, and that includes people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
It’s in that context that dyslexia is finally being discussed in the hallowed halls of parliament.
On September 24, 2018, NDP Member of Parliament Rachel Blaney (from Powell River, British Columbia) talked about the barriers facing dyslexics (her son specifically) and why we need a federal accessibility law in Canada:
“What my son said to me this past weekend was profound. He said, “People do not want people with disabilities to be successful. If we succeed, it means they will have to accommodate us.” I really hope that people in the House hear that, because it was really hard for me to hear that. This is a serious reality that accommodation is perceived as a burden, as something that is often seen as too much work.”
Ms. Blaney eloquently described her son’s learning challenges, and the challenges created by lack of awareness:
“As a parent of a child with a severe learning disability, I had a lot of learning to do. He was diagnosed when he was in elementary school. It was very weird for me walking around the world to realize how fast I recognized words and what I gather by seeing words around me every day. My son lives in a world where he is basically always surrounded by a foreign language. I think about when I travel internationally to communities where I cannot read the signs, or I do not understand what the ingredients are or I cannot read the menu. Those are challenges that my son faces every day. He did well in school, obviously, as he is now in university. One of the hardest things for him and his family were the many people who saw him as very intelligent and competent, which he absolutely is, but they did not understand the challenges that he faced because of his learning disability. Many educators thought that if they did something differently they would be able to fix him.”
She also raised some concerns about the lack of mandatory timelines for implementation and enforcement:
“This bill is a positive step in the right direction, but I am concerned that there are some significant gaps. The majority of these gaps are around allowing these organizations to decide instead of enforce. Persons with disabilities are put in positions that often are uncomfortable. It is our job as Canadians, as it is the job of the government, to look at what those barriers are and make a difference.”
I’m grateful to Ms. Blaney for bringing attention to the barriers that dyslexics face in Canada.
Read Ms. Blaney’s speech in full.
Bill C-81, accessibility and dyslexia
Dyslexia is viewed as an education issue (which is a provincial responsibility), but it’s equally about accessibility: access to learning, employment, services, information, and programs.
Accessibility is preferable to accommodation (as Ms. Blaney explains in her speech), because it aims to remove barriers completely and prevent discrimination before it happens. This is something you’d expect from the federal government — after all, it’s their/our job to serve all Canadians.
Ontario has it’s own accessibility legislation, which schools must comply with [more on this in another post].
If passed, the proposed Bill C-81 will remove barriers from citizens accessing programs and services from the federal government. Barriers include “anything that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation.” This could include:
- “anything physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal, anything that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or a practice.”
This will impact how the government hires, procures goods and services, delivers services (and all the forms you have to fill out!), and more.
As the federal government serves and employees people from coast to coast to coast, we all benefit.
What does this have to do with dyslexia?
The proposed bill recognizes learning disabilities, and dyslexia is the most common learning disability affecting 1 in 10 Canadians.
Dyslexics face many barriers when accessing federal government services, whether it’s filling out passport forms, applying for a boating license, reading health information, applying for a job or asking for workplace accommodations.
For dyslexics, accessible government means creating plain language and useful web content or clear signage so that we can find the building or office we need to get to. It means allowing us to use a computer when we’re taking a test; it means providing a real, live person to help us fill out a form or apply for a grant.
There are so many ways we can apply accessibility — it’s exciting to think of how it could change things for the better!
The proposed law both practically — and symbolically — represents a step forward for people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
It’s not perfect, of course, and disability organizations have requested amendments to strengthen the Bill.
The government will start to vote on proposed amendments to the bill on November 8, 2018. Read more about the proposed Accessible Canada Act.