International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and part of the 16 Days to End Violence Against Women Campaign in Canada. As the Chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), I have had an exciting and busy year.

Some of my activities included traveling to Geneva with a delegation of representatives from our nation to meet with the UN CRPD Committee members during Canada’s first Review since ratification of the CRPD Convention. This was very exciting and a powerful statement on what Canadians with disabilities need from our governments. From this, a list of Concluding Observations was released by the Committee, demanding that Canada do better under their obligations. I have also attended numerous Housing consultations across the country: one focused on homelessness, another focused on women, and then a more general one. My message at each of these roundtables and forums was simply this: Stop building inaccessible housing! I also attended a National Poverty Reduction Roundtable in my own community of Revelstoke, BC. Over the year, as part of the Alliance, CCD has hosted and organized many conversations to see what Canadians with disabilities want in a disability legislation, I was in attendance at our event that hosted representatives from around the world who have implemented legislation to learn from their experiences. As well, I attended several consultations that included Minister Qualtrough and her staff to discuss the legislation. I had the incredible privilege to be nominated and accepted as one the 150 Canadian women leaders and will be part of the Gender Equality Network over the next three years. We attended a three-day event in Toronto this autumn and will be meeting again in Halifax in April 2018.

Last week, I was in Ottawa to meet with friends, colleagues, government and others who are working to engage equality for people with disabilities in Canada. Last year, Minister Qualtrough and Minister Dion attended CCDs event in Ottawa to announce that Canada would be taking steps to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Optional Protocol, and I was happy to hear that legislation to move this forward was tabled by Minister Hehr on Thursday. This is a step forward to ensure that we have one more mechanism to ensure our human rights are respected.

While in Ottawa, I focused on CCD business and work while many of our executive members attended other conferences and events. We made time to have an in person executive meeting, especially important as we welcome two new executive members to our team. We also hosted a CRPD update meeting focused on addressing 12 areas of the UN CRPD Concluding Observations—during this meeting we came up with a number of action items to ensure that Canada continues to improve the lives of people with disabilities. We also brought together the executive and leads who have been working on the Strategic Plan and over a short afternoon, we pulled together a Vision, Mandate and Values statement that will guide our next steps. Thursday evening, many of us attended Minister Hehr’s Reception in honour of International Day of Persons with Disabilities. And my final event was to attend DAWN Canada’s #MorethanafootnoteWwD Campaign launch.

It is important to reflect on some of the issues that people with disabilities experience. Nearly 60% of complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission last year were related to disability, many related to employment.

Approximately 1 in 2 people with disabilities are unemployed and many who are employed are payed less than their peers. We also know that students with disabilities who graduate from universities and colleges are not equally represented in the workforce with their peers.

Women with disabilities experience a disproportionate rate of violence. For woman who are racialized, immigrant, refugee, or Indigenous, and disabled these numbers only increase. Further, some disabilities are known to put woman at higher risk, such as those living with a mental health diagnosis or a developmental disability. Too often, women with disabilities are a footnote to any gender based violence policies - see the campaign launched by DAWN Canada #MorethanafootnoteWWD for ways to press for change.

To close, it has been an exciting year and I have been proud to serve as your chair. I am excited to see what the next year brings and I encourage all of our council members and community partners, colleagues and friends to continue the work we have been doing and challenge the discrimination and stigma that we all face.

--Jewelles Smith

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