Accessible Canada submission - Dean Steacy's Submission

 

 

Dear Minister;

Letter of Introduction

 

My name is Dean Steacy, below is my submission concerning the proposed Accessibility Act.

My personal journey

Before I make my submission, allow me to share with you and your colleagues my journey of living with disability.  This will explain my personal motivation to advocate for legislative and policy changes to help disabled persons.

Ectrodactyly

I was born with ectrodactyly, a syndrome that affects your hands and feet, hearing and vision, etc..  In my case, I was born with clawed hands and feet, no tear ducts and corneal scarring.  This would eventually contribute to my total blindness in 2003. This syndrome  is not well known, and growing up with this condition in the 60s, meant that little or no resources were available to me or to my parents to provide me with support and tools.

Early years

In grade school, I was subjected to bullying, beatings, shunning, and relentless teasing  at the hands of both teachers and students. Being visibly disabled also lead to being  ridiculed and rejected on a daily basis, not only by kids, but also by teachers; the adults who were supposed to be there to protect me often encouraged students in these behaviours like shunning, bullying, taunting and beating me, making school a place that I did not want to go to. Participating in sports, or just daily school activities, was a challenge.  Why would coaches or teachers waste their time with the disabled kid?  Why would a kid take the chance to be ridiculed by associating with a disabled kid...? This was my daily cross to bear.  I heard it all, parents who were afraid, I was contagious.  Others that would not accept that their children might not make the team because of a crippled kid being on the team.  I became the scapegoat; when things went wrong it had to be me!

I thought that high school would be easier.  I was wrong The teasing and the ridiculing intensified, on a couple of occasions I heard teachers asking why I wasn't in a special school for the disabled. In fact I recall one teacher commenting that it was a shame that resources were being wasted on me just to prove that integration could work. It was statements like this that often left me confounded because there were students in wheelchairs in the school and they didn't seem to be treated the same way that I was being treated.

I thought that as I grew older people would become more tolerant but, I recall registering to play in hockey leagues in other parts of the city where nobody knew me, arriving late, already dressed, so nobody would see my hands and feet.  Each time, still on the ice, I was chosen because of my talent and skills, but as soon as I would go back to the dressing room and would remove my gear, I would be told that finally, I had not made it.  That there were several kids with equal talent and  that they had to make a difficult choice. That there was no place for me.   

My father was very supportive.  He told me to soldier on.  This is not to say that at every step I always met rejection there were a few coaches, teachers and other adults who were supportive,and recognized that I had something to offer. I know that because of these few people who helped me, life was more bearable.

While I know that there were others who were in a worse situation than I was, sometimes that is very hard to see when you are being subjected to this type of treatment. Luckily, with my father's support I was able to move above the bullying, teasing and rejection.

My situation didn't really start to change until I was 15 and I had  the opportunity to go spend the summer with  a family in France. While I was there I visited a Nazi  Concentration Camp, in the Alsace Lorraine region. The replica of the Concentration camp affected me quite deeply, I'd seen the movies and read the books but actually going and seeing in person  what the Nazis did was disturbing to say the least. After leaving the replica Concentration Camp, we were taken a few kilometres down the road to the real camp. Of course the only things that were left were the fence and the cement foundations to all the buildings but, walking around the site you could see the bloodstains in the cement you could see the burn marks in the cement. What you also need to understand is I visited this site on a sunny day in the middle of summer and you could not hear any birds singing or any insects buzzing. It was at this point that I swore to myself that I would do what it takes, no matter how long it takes, to make sure that discrimination was ended. I can say now that I was shaken to the absolute core of my being, but at 15 I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to change things. I just knew I was.

Working as a disabled person: shortfalls of affirmative action and employment equity

So, I began to demand my rights when I thought they were being violated and when I turned 17, I decided to apply to join the Canadian Armed Forces; while I didn't meet the basic medical standard, with the support of my father, Paul Dick, my local MP and Parliament's Sgt. at Arms, an  order in council was passed allowing me to join the militia, and I enrolled in the Govenor General's foot Guards.  Unfortunately, the forces did not think I should be enrolled but, when  I started my training, things were not easy at first, but after I was able to show other soldiers that I was carrying my weight,and performing my duties, they accepted me as an equal.  Unfortunately, the officers did not do the same, so in the end I left the military.

Wanting to serve, I sought employment within the RCMP believing that if I couldn't contribute in the Army, then the Police would be the next best step. That was quite an experience in futility, as they were less open than the military. 

At the time, employment equity was non existent, it was called  affirmative action  but, the RCMP seemed to ignore it, and follow their own rules. It was employment interactions like this that left me feeling Ididn't  fit  into any of the definition or categories specified by  affirmative action policy.  Given the RCMP's reaction to my medical disability and their position that affirmative action did not apply to require them to hire me, left me wondering how I could qualify for rmployment under affirmative action poilicy.  So at first I did not seek this type of employment opportunity. However, when I realized how hard it was to gain employment because i was seen  by employers  as a disabled person,  I tried to apply to these programs, but,  I was told that I was not disabled enough..., to say the least I was left confounded and confused.

Not using any special avenues, I finally gained employment with the Saskatchewan Government as a Welfare Investigation Officer, and 2 years later I transferred into the federal government in Ottawa.

When I joined the federal government, I thought that I would be treated fairly, again I was mistaken,  Sadly, the way individuals in wheelchairs  and people with other types of disabilities were treated was huge. For instance individuals in wheelchairs were more likley treated as being mentally capable therefor eligible for promotion, whereas those with other types of disabilities  were treated as mentally inferior and ineligible for promotion.

This is to say that as a disabled person when you came into work and did your job and were happy to stay at the same level, you were left alone. However, if you showed initiative, drive, or ambition or try to participate you were looked at as a threat to an able-bodied person's ability to climb the ladder. I was overlooked for promotion, projects and development opportunities, I watched colleagues receive promotion without competition, deployment to other departments, while I had to fight and or compete for every promotion that I received. Unfortunately, this left me with the reputation as being a 'piece of work', 'aggressive', and a 'loose cannon'.

Although I am proud of my 37-year tenure with the federalgovernment, I faced a multiplicity of barriers throughout my employment from being refused proper accommodation in the workplace, during competitions, most of the time it was management's refusal to provide the equipment either because it was too expensive or took too much time and effort to obtain.

I also continued to face  barriers in the workplace of being overlooked, discriminated against and faced a continual general lack of understanding  of my  needs. I was also questioned why I should be promoted over an able-bodied employee.

As well I was  subjected to  harassment and bullying, by management, when I fought for my rights; this lead to the  refusal to provide me with accommodation, and lack of recognition.

But, when there was hard work or a  difficult files to handle it was given to me with the hope that I would fail, however when I didn't I was not given credit  for my managerial talents, knowledge or abilities.

As you push for your rights and express your feelings and frustration, you are slowly perceived as demanding, difficult, abrupt, etc. This becomes the reason that disabled employees such as myself have great difficulty in moving ahead or being recognized as equals in the workplace.  It seems that asking to get tools that meet your needs is too much, that it slows down the implementation process and penalized all the other employees.

While, the law does not absolutely require that employers have to accommodate, the law does require that employers do provide some form of an accommodation. The repercussions and sanctions are so minimal that most employers do not take them seriously [i.e., the sanctions levied by the courts and/or tribunals].

When I joined the federal government in 1985 I had to fight, I had to prove to everyone that I could do the job, whereas able-bodied employees were automatically believed to have the ability to do the job. Even though, human rights laws changed in the mid-80s and 90s it was still a struggle to have employers understand that an accommodated employee is a loyal employee who is prepared to work hard. I can say that in my over 37 years of service in the federal government I consider myself to be a reluctant trailblazer. I wished that I never had had to fight to have my needs accommodated, that I had been accepted in the workplace for the skills and abilities that I brought to the workplace rather than having to have to show and prove that I was as capable as an able-bodied employee

Thank you for your consideration in this matter, below I will outline in my submission what I believe to be the most important pieces for the new legislation.

Yours truly,

Dean Steacy

 

 

 

Dean Steacy's Submission on the proposed Accessibility Act

 

1) The Legislation in and of itself must focus on accessibility and must ensure that it is fully inclusive and usable.

2) The legislation must be written in language that leaves no doubt what its intent is. For example, the words endeavor and/or attempt should be shied away from, rather, words like 'shall', 'must',  'demonstrate', 'prove' should be used when requiring a manufacturer, employer, and/or service providers  to implement the provisions of the act.

3) The provisions of the act should be mandatory so that accessibility and inclusion become the norm and not an afterthought, otherwise, barriers that are in place will stay in place.

4) The provisions of the  United Nations Universal Declarations of Persons with Disabilities needs to be considered when writing the new legislation.

5) While, the legislation will be focused on federally regulated entities the Act should be structured in a manner that any organization (including government contracts) receiving funding directly or indirectly from the federal government, will come under the jurisdiction of this new legislation

6) The legislation needs to address building design, equipment design, software design, furniture design, the workplace and its facilities such as office spaces, must be designed in a manner that provide ease of access for those in wheelchairs but also provide easy continuity for those who are blind or visually impaired.

In this regard, a federally regulated entity cannot say they've met the requirements of inclusive design for building if it only builds a wheelchair ramp; the organization  must also take into account the rest of the facility such as ensuring that elevators are accessible to the blind and visually impaired, washrooms have tactile display as well as being accessible for those in wheelchairs. To this end The Act must focus on the elimination of barriers which inhibit all persons with disabilities from gaining employment in society.

7) The Act must take the lead role in requiring that all departments prove that they have eliminated barriers within the workplace. For example they cannot rent a building that is not fully accessible; they cannot purchase office equipment that is not fully accessible; they cannot purchase software that is not fully accessible. Accessibility cannot be an afterthought, and in this regard management performance bonuses should be tied to the senior manager's ability to eliminate barriers within the workplace.

8) All contracts must have provisions that require all contractees to make sure that whatever they're being contracted for, they take into account the provisions of this act.

9) Concerning procurement, the act must make it explicit that all procurement contracts entered into by any Federal government department, contractor covered by the legislation, and any individual and/or organization receiving funds directly or indirectly from the federal government must make accessibility mandatory. For example a government department cannot purchase computer software programs straight out of the box unless it can be proven that the software meets government accessibility standards; accessibility cannot be an add-on which would come in version 2.0. Moreover, departments who allow third-party computer software to access their portals must ensure that any software accessing one of its portals is accessible. For example not all tax software's that the Canada revenue agency endorses are accessible and they should be.

10) The act, where possible should incorporate the provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and/or other similar legislations thereby allowing the new legislation to have a greater focus and reach. As well, this may make it easier to enforce the new legislation by using these bodies' enforcement divisions. As well the new legislation must make any complaints process simple and easy to use.

11) Within the context of enforcement legislation should allow for mediation that is compulsory before an investigation is launched.

The investigation process while it must be comprehensive should be structured in a manner that does not allow the parties involved in the complaint to envoke  a myriad of different types of delays. Once the  investigation report is completed the investigation report must include remedies along with the time frames in which remedies must be implemented. Aside from implementing remedies that will fix the situation and ensure that the provisions of the act will not be continued to be violated. As well,  there needs to be damages assessed in each case and these damages cannot be of a minimal amount. Damages should start at $100,000  and depending on the offence $5,000,000.

It is important to remember that when writing this legislation while many organizations will state that they  believe in the  principle of  the legislation it  should not be a motherhood statement for this at the end of the day will mean that nothing advances.

For example Canadian  Banks did not implement accessible ATM machines because they were good corporate citizens, rather, they did so only because a Human Rights complaint was made against them.

The broadcasting industry  specifically TV did not provide close captioning {c.c} on a voluntary basis rather, a Human Rights complaint had to be taken against it,  and to this extent the broadcasting industry has not made descriptive video service available to all of its programming rather it has  done a minimal job. The industry has had to be forced by the CRTC to increase the amount of programming that it provides with descriptive video service and to this extent it is still lacking when compared to the amount of close captioning provided.

Furthermore the cable companies have been lacking when it comes to the provision of accessible equipment from cable boxes to remote controls. Companies like Comm Cast in the United States, provide cable boxes and remote controls that are accessible.

12)  Many websites are totally inaccessible, many manufacturers and retailers and service providers use point-of-sale machines that are inaccessible. The list can go on and on but what is clear is that unfortunately many federally regulated entities as well as many organizations that indirectly receive funding from the federal government have no motivation to provide accessible, inclusive, barrier free services within the Workplace and right now they have no incentive to provide product and or services that are accessible.

13) As stated above, the legislation must in the most broadest terms require and make mandatory accessibility, inclusive so that individuals with disabilities can live, work,  and participate in Canada without having unnecessary barriers placed in front of them.

14) The nomenclature used in this act must be explicitly clear to those reading it that accessibility is a requirement not  an endeavour. The definitions within the act, for example what a disability is, need to be explicit so that the reader understands what the act is trying to achieve.

15) Enforcement time frames must be reasonable so that recommendations can be implemented, but the time frames cannot be so broad that it takes years for the organization to make the changes.

16) The act should also include education provisions where Canadians are educated , about what accessibility and what the elimination of barriers can mean to Canadian society.The education process should start in elementary school and continue on through to university. At this point in time, unless individuals are educated about disabilities and those individuals with disabilities and how they can participate and contribute the culture will not change.

17) Finally, the act should be administered and regulated by an organization that is an agent of Parliament, or quasi-agent of Parliament, this organization cannot be held accountable to  a department that it may have to investigate.