People with disabilities still face persistent challenges

Four years after ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Government last Tuesday 18 February issued its first follow-up report. In parallel with the initiatives put in place at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, many challenges remain for these persons, including the quest for a job.

By ratifying the United Nations Convention in March 2010, Canada is committed to respecting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities while enabling their full participation in society. Like the obstacles of language, communication, learning, training or security, they still have to deal with many ongoing challenges affecting their well-being. This is the result of the report published by the government which also shows that the rate of poverty among persons with disabilities in the country remains a major challenge, as is the quest for a job and access to the labour market.

Most persons with disabilities underemployed or unemployed

According to the most recent figures published in 2006, about one Canadian in seven was living with a mental or physical disability, or 14.3% of the population. While 8.6% said that they have a mild to moderate disability, 5.7% suffered from a serious or severe disability. The rate of disability was slightly higher among women (17.7%) than men (15.4%), while about 43% of 4 million people 65 years old or more have a disability. The federal government therefore allocates 222 million dollars each year to the provinces and territories to design and offer programs to stimulate the possibilities for employment of people with disabilities.

At the same time, the provincial and territorial governments are obliged to offer similar assistance for the next four years. The conservative government has also announced allocation of 15 million dollars over three years to the Canadian Association for Community Living to implement its new job creation strategy. But despite these initiatives and according to specialists, most Canadians who live with a disability are currently still underemployed or simply unemployed.

Lack of supervision under debate

The report also lists several federal, provincial and territorial initiatives and programs to encourage and facilitate participation by people with disabilities in sports activities, elementary and post secondary education or the justice system. However it does not specify the success rates of these initiatives. Improving the well-being of people with disabilities, increasing their opportunities for participating in economic life and developing their potential requires a continuous, multifaceted and multipartner approach, the report indicates throughout. Which raises some criticisms.

The national coordinator for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Laurie Beachell, charges the government with not having adhered with Section 33 of the UN Convention on the designation of an independent monitoring body to ensure the proper application of the Convention. From its side, the government ensures that this section is implemented at the federal, provincial and territorial levels through a variety of mechanisms such as tribunals, Human Rights Commissions, mediators and intergovernmental bodies. As an example, in 2012 the government launched the federal reference guide on disability. It is a tool that aims to ensure that legislation, policies, programs and services include persons with disabilities, respects their rights, promotes positive attitudes and raises awareness among the public of their needs.

Laurie Beachell also reprimands the government for not having respected Section 33 of the Convention on Persons with Disabilities which obliges Canada to designate a mechanism for independent monitoring responsible for promotion, protecting and monitoring implementation of this Convention. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, New Zealand and Australia have designated their national human rights bodies as independent supervisory agency

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