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A salute to people with disabilities

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas released the following statement today to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities:

Dear friends:

Today, December 3, marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. On behalf of all OPSEU members, I want to reaffirm our union’s commitment to helping create a world that is free of the barriers that can block people with disabilities from participating fully in the life of our society. These barriers may be physical; they may involve our own attitudes about disability. Here in Canada, we are making slow but steady progress in removing these barriers. But there is much more to do.

At this point we don’t know why two people with guns walked into the Inland Regional Centre in San Bernardino, California yesterday. We don’t know why they killed 14 people and injured many more. We don’t know what the motive was.

All the same, the shootings hit close to home for thousands of OPSEU members. Inland Regional is a state-run non-profit facility for people with intellectual disabilities. It employs 670 workers who provide housing, work programs, therapy, and social services for thousands of citizens.

Here in Ontario, programs just like these are at the heart of our commitment to removing barriers for people with disabilities. Close to 15,000 OPSEU members devote every hour of their working lives to this task. In developmental services, at the Ontario Disability Support Plan, and at other agencies, this work is what makes our commitment to people with disabilities real. Somebody once said that next to your love, the most important thing you can give anybody is your labour. Well, thousands of OPSEU members give both. Every day.

And it must be noted: many OPSEU members are people with disabilities, too. When I talk about people with disabilities, I’m not talking about “them.” I’m talking about us.

So on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let’s recommit to removing barriers. And let’s remind ourselves that we have so much further to go. Let’s salute people with disabilities. And let’s also salute all the people, here at home and around the world, who work to tear down barriers every day.

Thank you.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union