As a first step in undertaking an evaluation of a particular law, it is helpful to begin by understanding the context in which that law will operate and analyzing how the principles may relate to that context. This includes the general social area which the law addresses, as well as the existing laws and policies that interact with the law that is proposed or under review. This section considers how the context of the law may situate it in relation to the principles.
Applying the Principles to Step 1
Note: “Law” here refers to law, policy and practice as appropriate.
As a first step in the evaluation of a law, it is helpful to consider the specific social area in which the law operates, such as employment, housing, education, family relationships or caregiving, among others. Different social areas will have different relationships to and effects on the attainment of the principles. For example, the attainment of safety and of participation and inclusion will be significantly affected by laws related to housing. Laws related to decision-making will impact heavily on the independence and autonomy of some persons with disabilities.
Some contexts may involve particular challenges or constraints for the attainment of the principles. For example, residence in a long-term care home by its very nature constrains the ability of residents to participate in and be included by the broader community. Such particular challenges to the principles should be taken into account when designing the law in question.
Existing laws, policies and programs at various levels of government are an important part of the context to be considered, and careful attention should be paid to how the proposed law will affect the principles in combination with existing laws. Law in one area may affect attainment of the principles in quite another area of the law. For example, law related to access to assistive devices may affect access to housing or employment. Law related to income security will affect access to housing.
QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION IN APPLYING STEP 1
1. What area(s) of life does the law potentially affect? What are the particular contexts and concerns of persons with disabilities in this area of life?
2. Which principles seem relevant for this context?
3. Are there aspects of this context that tend to constrain the implementation of any of the principles? If so, are there strategies that can be employed to address this?
4. How might law in this one particular context affect other areas, and the attainment of the principles in those areas?
APPLYING THE FRAMEWORK: EXAMPLES OF RELATING THE PRINCIPLES TO THE CONTEXT OF THE LAW
Access to Adequate Housing and the Principles
Like everyone, persons with disabilities want to have access to housing that meets their needs. We all need housing that is safe, affordable and enables us to be part of our community. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Canada has ratified, recognizes adequate housing as a fundamental right, although no laws to this effect have been enacted in Canada, and the CRPD recognizes a right to “adequate food, clothing and housing” for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities face a range of barriers to adequate housing, such as a lack of physically accessible housing stock and supportive housing for those with non-physical disabilities, discriminatory attitudes on the part of landlords, income barriers that are particularly acute because of the association of disability with poverty, and the complex and fragmentary nature of existing laws and programs intended to assist individuals (including those with disabilities) in obtaining housing.
Access to adequate housing is essential to the attainment of the principles for persons with disabilities. The lack of accessible housing speaks to ongoing shortcomings in society’s response to diversity in human abilities. As has been emphasized by the community living movement, for persons with disabilities, appropriate housing can be essential to being part of the broader community, and thereby social inclusion and participation. The availability of adequate, accessible, affordable housing is central to the ability of many persons with disabilities to make one of the “normal” life course transitions, that of learning to live independently, and is thus central to the principle of fostering independence and autonomy. Housing that is in poor repair, does not have appropriate accessibility features or is in unsafe areas will jeopardize living in safety. Inadequate housing may disrespect the dignity and worth of persons with disabilities. As well, lack of access to adequate housing may jeopardize the attainment of the principles in other areas of life. The federal government has recognized housing as central to reducing poverty and exclusion and as the Ontario Human Rights Commission has pointed out, “without appropriate housing, it is often not possible to get and keep employment, to recover from mental illness or other disabilities, to integrate into the community, to escape physical or emotional violence, or to keep custody of the children”.
First Nations Older Adults with Disabilities and Access to Supports
The onset of disability and the resultant need for supports poses challenges for all affected older adults. First Nations older adults, however, face significant additional challenges. The lower than average socio-economic status of First Nations communities leads to higher than average rates of disability and significantly reduced lifespans, so that the pressures surrounding disability and aging, acute across all groups, are particularly severe for these communities. In some First Nations home communities, inadequate and overcrowded housing, together with a lack of community services, makes it impossible for older adults who have developed significant health or ability limitations to remain in their home communities. A move to a major centre where long-term care is available may mean a very significant dislocation, separating the resident not only from family and community, but also from culture and in some cases language. In this way, the principle of social inclusion and participation is engaged, although the particular cultural context of First Nations persons must be taken into account in interpreting and applying it. As well, because many First Nations individuals who are now older will have experienced the residential school system, re-institutionalization at the end of the life course may have a profound negative emotional and psychological impact. That is, the principle of the right to live in safety may be in jeopardy, given the shortage of community-based and culturally appropriate options for these individuals. Finally, historically and in most contemporary Aboriginal cultures, older members are accorded great respect and Elders play a central role in family, community and spiritual life. When First Nations older adults leave their home communities for geographically distant long-term care institutions, it is a significant loss for the community as well as the individual older person, raising issues related to the principle of recognizing that we all live in society.