L'Arche Canada Submission on Consulting with Canadians on Accessibility Legislation
The Government of Canada posed the question ”What does an accessible Canada mean to you?” Here is L’Arche Canada’s reply submitted to the consultation process

On behalf of the 29 Communities of L’Arche from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island who are the members of L’Arche Canada, The National Leaders and Board of L’Arche Canada wish to express our gratitude to the Government of Canada for making this new legislation a priority. Our members have participated in this process through in-person sessions and the on-line survey, and through a process of reflection on our vision for inclusion with persons with intellectual disabilities.

Stacey (the woman with the microphone) chose to speak up for a housemate who uses a wheelchair, cannot verbally communicate, and has other complex challenges. We also wish to speak up for persons with more complex disabilities, those who may not be able to speak for themselves, who may not be able to work in competitive employment or live independently. How will we support them to realize their full potential and exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens? How can we ensure that they are not left behind even as we work for full inclusion of others?

Recommendations for the Act

We recognize that the Government of Canada shares the responsibility to ensure accessibility and inclusion with the provinces, territories and municipalities. With the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, we strongly encourage the Government to ensure accessibility and inclusion in the areas of your direct jurisdiction “in such areas as banking, broadcasting, Employment Insurance, federal investments in affordable housing, the National Building Code, the Canada Health Act, federal taxes, the post office, cross border passenger transportation (air, rail, marine, interprovincial bus), Aboriginal lands and rights, federal programs for women, criminal law, immigration, the national capital, official languages within the federal sphere, citizenship, voting in federal elections and control of drugs.”  An act that goes beyond voluntary guidelines and promotion to include enforceable programs and standards would be a powerful force for social change and impact the lives of millions of Canadians.

In addition, we believe that the Act must be designed to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and be the standard for the provinces, territories and municipalities to develop corresponding legislation to implement the CRPD in their areas of jurisdiction. There was extraordinary support for ratification of the CRPD that must be rebuilt in order to implement it.

As L’Arche Canada, we wish to underline the importance of ensuring accessibility for persons with intellectual disabilities and other complex disabilities that include significant communication challenges.

A Vision of a Diverse and Inclusive Canada

In a divided world, Canada is a beacon of hope. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated that our commitment to diversity and inclusion is “a powerful and ambitious approach to making Canada and the world a better and safer place.”

The vision of L’Arche is rooted in these core values of belonging. We dream of a world where:

  • People with disabilities fully participate in society –living, learning, working and belonging in their communities of choice;
  • Relationships between people who are different in background, experience and ability are rooted in respect, discovery and reciprocity;
  • Vulnerability and imperfection are embraced as essential parts of what it means to be human;
  • Communities are places of belonging that welcome the contribution of each person and recognize that we need each other in order to thrive;
  • Diversity and inclusion are celebrated as the rich yet challenging source of the creativity and innovation, empathy and cooperation, and joy and unity that make a better, safer world.

When we welcome the contributions of persons with intellectual and other disabilities, they thrive, and we all benefit from a more vibrant, creative and compassionate society.

Let’s create a better world

While we have taken many steps towards this vision in Canada, we have a long way to go. We cannot get there by policies and programs alone –we need ongoing transformation of the hearts and minds of individuals and communities -yet we must have policies and programs that support this transformation; that support both the opportunities for persons with disabilities to thrive and the capacity of communities to welcome them as full participants.

We must build a new social framework that supports the valued contribution of all members of the community –even those who do not “fit in” to the norms of a highly competitive economic system and a society that values independence over interdependence, and the individual over the community. We need to facilitate listening to individuals who do not yet have a voice due to their life experience, communications challenges and lack of supports. What are their concerns? What do they have to offer? How can the community increase capacity to receive and value their contributions? Only then will we have a culture of inclusion that celebrates the full spectrum of human diversity.

A human rights framework is the starting point for this work. We must hear the voices of persons who live the pain of historic and current forms of oppression, exclusion and abuse. Their experience must inform everything we do as we attempt to support them to heal, to claim their voice and power, and to take their rightful place in society. Like other
groups who have experienced discrimination, they deserve to have their story heard and their grievances addressed.

Including All Persons with Disabilities

Persons with significant intellectual disabilities or other complex disabilities cannot be left behind. We recommend that the Government of Canada develop legislation that supports and promotes:

Listening to the experience, dreams and goals of persons with intellectual disabilities:

  • Focusing on their gifts and abilities;
  • Recognizing that this community is diverse with a broad spectrum of abilities, life experience, personalities, interests, faith and cultural backgrounds, social networks, education, and needs for support;
  • Respecting that individuals have different histories of oppression and exclusion including high levels of abuse;
  • Knowing that many individuals use alternative forms of communication;

Strong social networks for persons with intellectual disabilities

  • That keep the voice of the individual at the centre;"
  • Including the family, friends, co-workers, and members of their communities of interest who they choose to include;"
  • Based on reciprocity and learning together;"
  • That increase belonging in their communities of choice.

Opportunities for education and training, employment and community participation for persons with intellectual disabilities based on public social policy that supports this

  • Tailored to the unique strengths and challenges of individuals;
  • Optimizing inclusion and social connection, choice, dignity and autonomy while recognizing the need for safety and interdependence;
  • Seeking creative ways to increase employment and develop a continuum of alternative options for meaningful contribution.

Education in diversity and inclusion for all Canadians

  • Reflecting on culture -what it means to belong and the challenges as well as the gifts of living with difference;
  • Rooted in cultural sensitivity to a unique yet diverse community;
  • Recognizing a history of oppression and exclusion stemming from “ableism” and other societal barriers;
  • Including positive stories of individual accomplishment and the impact of inclusive on communities.

Developing community capacity for inclusion and belonging

  • Beginning with assessment of community assets and challenges;
  • Geared to inclusion in existing community supports and spaces;
  • Creating long-term, strategic development goals;
  • Including leadership development at all levels.

Disabilities arts and culture as a means of raising public awareness of disability issues and the contribution of artists and other persons with disabilities.