There are more than 926,000 British Columbians over the age of 15 with some level of disability. (Photo: Pixabay)

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

COLUMN: People with disabilities deserve inclusive communities

But to get there, we all need to be part of the change, writes Surrey MLA

My quality of life has never been diminished by my disability.

I am not unhealthy or unwell because of my disability. It is not a personal tragedy, nor something that needs to be cured or overcome. My disability is simply part of what makes me – me.

Thankfully, I believe that society’s understanding of disability is improving. We are starting to shift the definition of “disability” from a personal deficit, to what occurs because a person’s needs are not addressed in the physical and social environment.

There are more than 926,000 British Columbians over the age of 15 with some level of disability — some form of barrier to full and equitable participation. That encompasses nearly 25 per cent of the population here in British Columbia, however, only 59 per cent of Canadians with disabilities aged 25 to 64 are employed compared to 80 per cent of Canadians without.

We can change that. To get to that point we must be honest and acknowledge that the biggest barrier of all is ourselves — our own biases. In fact, attitudinal barriers are the most pervasive.

I was recently told by a business when I suggested some improvement to their accessibility, “I’ve done what I am required to do by law.” It’s this attitude that we must all work together to change.

SEE ALSO: South Surrey self-advocates help give voice to accessibility concerns

I had hoped that people’s thinking would have evolved by now, nearly 30 years after my injury, but I have been disappointed by the lack of progress. I want to believe that education and positive reinforcement are the answer — more carrot, less stick. But I have evolved my thinking and believe more stick is required.

As responsible legislators, we have an obligation to step in when the market has not or cannot meet a societal need. We have had accessible standards for public spaces for decades, however, we have missed a fundamental need — housing.

It is critical that we are ensuring that housing is being built that works for everyone. That’s why I introduced The Building (New Housing Access) Amendment Act, 2019 this year.

Being truly inclusive means that people of all abilities have the opportunity to fully participate in their communities. It means we continually challenge our attitudes and beliefs about disabilities, and we recognize and value the contributions that people with disabilities make to our workplaces, communities and the economy.

That is why a few years ago, our BC Liberal government moved forward with Accessibility 2024, it’s why the Government of Canada has passed the Accessible Canada Act and it’s why all parties in British Columbia have committed to B.C. Accessibility legislation.

I encourage everyone to be a part of the change. See the ability. Remove the barriers.

Stephanie Cadieux is Liberal MLA representing Surrey South.

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