First proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed annually on December 3. It serves to increase awareness about disability issues, to promote the rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities globally, and to support their inclusion in all aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life.
OPSEU/SEFPO and the OPSEU/SEFPO Disability Rights Caucus (DRC) are proud to support the International Day of Persons with Disabilities because we are committed to standing up for fairness, equity, inclusion and accessibility for all – in our communities, in our workplaces and at the bargaining table too.
We have all faced significant challenges throughout the pandemic, and many are still struggling to get through the worst of it. But, the COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected persons with disabilities. As we work to rebuild Ontario, we must never forget the lessons we’ve learned, including the many already known by persons with disabilities. Here are a few examples:
- Many people can work from home effectively, without needing a lot of support
- Our health care system is in a precarious state, and the health care services that persons with disabilities rely on aren’t a luxury – they’re lifesaving
- Prolonged social isolation has worsened the difficulties faced by those with chronic conditions and mental health issues; and
- While the use of face masks has proven highly effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19, it has also shined a light on the need for visual reinforcements, even for individuals who do not have a traditional hearing impairment.
We all want to create a world where we have equal opportunities and equal access to services in our communities. But, the pandemic has proven just how far we have to go to achieve it, especially for persons with disabilities.
We must begin to build back better. As members of the OPSEU/SEFPO DRC, we remain hopeful that our society, and our governments, have taken the pandemic’s lessons to heart. As we move forward, we must ensure that persons with disabilities are included in all areas of our society so that their lived experiences can help to guide our efforts to rebuild – to improve universal design, and reduce the need for special accommodations more broadly.
The DRC urges all decision-makers to include persons with disabilities when consulting about the path forward; whether it’s the return to in-person office work, or tackling issues like access to health care and other public services. Over the past 20 months we’ve seen that when we come together and support one another we can achieve great things – but persons with disabilities must always have a seat at the table. There can be nothing about us, without us.
The DRC continues to fight for a future where people can live barrier-free; whether it’s accessing a building without using stairs, getting a job without fear of discrimination, or feeling safe disclosing a mental health condition at work. We believe that universal design can help to ensure that all people have access to information, physical spaces, social interaction, and meaningful employment. And we believe that working towards an accessible future – where no one is excluded because of their health or physical impairments – is everyone’s responsibility.
The OPSEU/SEFPO DRC remains committed to advocating on behalf of people with disabilities. We work hard in our union, and in our communities, to raise awareness and to identify and remove barriers that prevent members from fully participating, including those who continue to face barriers in obtaining gainful employment. Their voices must continue to be elevated and their stories told in our ongoing fight for fairness, equality, accessibility and inclusion.
We encourage you to not be afraid, and to educate yourselves on the issues that impact people with disabilities the most. When it comes to their dignity and wellbeing, your contribution and attention will make a positive impact.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
OPSEU/SEFPO Disability Rights Caucus (DRC)