Close to 200 persons with disabilities and representatives of government, advocacy groups and service providers will have a voice in the LCO’s consultation paper on the law as it affects persons with disabilities. Due for release this winter, the paper will reflect experiences and opinions shared during 17 focus groups in five centres from Thunder Bay to Ottawa.
“The laws aren’t the main issue,” says LCO staff lawyer Lauren Bates. “It’s what happens around them — how they are implemented, supported and communicated.” The consultations explored, for example, what happens when persons with disabilities apply to the Ontario Disability Support Program. “We asked: ‘How do people find out about it?’ ‘What happens when they have a challenge or complaint?’”
In many cases, the statutes and the experiences were at odds.
Services for persons with disabilities seldom meet the needs of diverse communities, agree Raihanna Hirji-Khalfan of the Ethno-Racial People with Disabilities Coalition of Ontario and the Francophone Legal Aid Clinic’s Éric Cabana. “Gathering the knowledge you need is one thing,” says Cabana. “Finding it in French is another issue entirely.”
“We need a legal framework that acknowledges the rights and needs of persons with disabilities from racialized communities,” says Hirji-Khalfan
Gary Malkowski, special advisor to the president, public affairs of The Canadian Hearing Society, agrees the very definition of ‘disability’ and the eligibility criteria for disability support must be consistent across the board. “Language is a powerful tool that both shapes and is shaped by ideas, perceptions and attitudes. These very attitudes and definitions can present the most difficult barriers for those who are culturally deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing, sometimes even excluding them from participating in programs and services.”
“There is a basket of changes that must happen and not just around the wording of the law,” observes Bates. “We must also look at process.”
Members of the public will be invited to comment on the consultation paper in early 2011. With this report, research and public input as a guide, the Law Commission will then produce a final report with recommendations for a new disability law framework.