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Disability Rights in Canada, a Brief History

January 06, 2015
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How-the-Government-of-Canada-Defines-“Disability”-300x119Can you imagine what life was like before medicine, adaptive technology and assistive programs? What about life without laws to protect and serve those who are disabled? It wasn’t until late in the 20th century when government and society began to recognize people with disabilities. Nonetheless, accessibility issues and social stigmas still exist today.

The combined challenges of physical obstacles and a lack of public understanding continue to put a drag on the progress made by the disability community in Canada. However, until the 20th century, there were hardly no solutions or wide-spread assistance for disabled individuals. And since not a lot of information about disability was available at the time, many people were discriminated against.

This is the case in Canada where it wasn’t until 1970 when the Canadian Government awakened to the sad realities of life with a disability. It is believed that this is around the time when America began recognizing the needs of disabled individuals; before long, Canada followed suit. At this time, the government enacted the first law to give specific rights to people with disabilities. The law is known as the Canadian Human Rights Act. It states that all Canadians have equal rights regardless of sex, race, nationality and disability. It’s hard to believe it wasn’t until 1970 when such a law was put in place, but this single step made all further advancement possible.

Seven years later the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed. This advanced the ideology that all Canadian citizens should receive equal treatment. Unfortunately, it did not say much about what equal treatment should look like.

Following this, many changes were made to assist and advance life in Canada. Numerous efforts have been applied since but three early steps towards progress at the time were;

1.) Establishing the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped. This  government spokesman gave a unified and credible voice to the disability community.

2.) In 1981, the “International Year of the Disabled” did wonders for spreading useful information about the challenges facing people with disabilities. For the first time, awareness became an expectation of the general public.

3.) The Obstacles Report investigated a variety of troubles people with disabilities faced. When this was created, an extensive list of obstacles became available for research and reference.

By instituting government officials, information and reports, the Canadian Government was better positioned to help people with disabilities. Other acts like the Blind Persons Act and Employment Equity Act were put in place since the advent of disability awareness.

Today, the disability community of Canada continues to encourage the Canadian Government to advance the cause they promised to advocate for just 40 years ago. Even though people with disabilities will always have obstacles to overcome, the passing of these laws made a huge difference in how disabled individuals were perceived by society. Now, how can we help them achieve other goals?

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