Opinion: It's time we made room for people with disabilities

Author of the article:

Paul Lupien  •  Special to Montreal Gazette
Published Dec 03, 2023  •  Last updated 12 hours ago  •  3 minute read

On Dec. 3 the world celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It’s an opportunity to recognize the diversity of human abilities, and to raise awareness of the issues facing people with disabilities.

But in all honesty, it’s the only day of the year when we’re truly visible.

In Quebec, nearly 16 per cent of the population ages 15 and over has functional limitations or disabilities. That’s over a million people. It’s a lot of people being ignored the remaining 364 days of the year, and I’m sure you know a few of them.

The people with disabilities supported by the 50 or so COPHAN member organizations and the associative community are deaf, blind, in wheelchairs due to various diseases or congenital malformations such as spina bifida, or suffering from the side-effects of increasing pollution.

Still others are neurovariant, meaning that the way their brain works differs from the norm, which includes conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia, to name a few.

Are you among those who think that the quality of public transportation could be better? We’re often prisoners in our homes because paratransit is limited or unavailable in some regions.

Are you frustrated with the health care system? Imagine the obstacles that people with disabilities must overcome to receive the care they need.

Do you think the cost of education is too high? Students with disabilities face an uphill battle, and most drop out before graduation.

Are you irritated by the poor state of the sidewalks and streets? Take a few hours to walk alongside a blind or wheelchair-bound person on potholed sidewalks, and you’ll understand how difficult it can be for them to go places.

Women have a hard time breaking through the glass ceiling? Most, if not all, important decision-making circles are completely closed to people with disabilities. Not to mention that the job market, even in a supposed era of labour shortage, is not particularly welcoming to us.

I could also tell you about the clauses of the Act Respecting the Quebec Pension Plan that discriminate against people with disabilities, as recognized by Quebec’s labour tribunal. At age 65, tens of thousands of people with disabilities see their disability pensions cut by 24 per cent. And rather than accept the tribunal’s ruling, the government has chosen to appeal the case.

All too often, we feel like second-class citizens.

Need I also mention that COPHAN’s funding was increased by less than one per cent this year? Meanwhile, the Quebec government is spending up to $7 million for the L.A. Kings to play a couple of preseason NHL games in Quebec City. This money would surely have been much more useful to the community had it been given to non-profits.

While there has been some progress, particularly in terms of representation of people with disabilities on various government committees and roundtables, it remains to be seen whether our recommendations will be implemented. We’re still waiting to find out whether we’ll have a seat at Santé Québec, the new agency at the centre of the province’s health care reform.

Pollution and musculoskeletal problems will very soon cause a drastic increase in the number of people with disabilities or functional limitations in Quebec, Canada and the Western world.

Society doesn’t have the luxury of leaving us behind, of doing away with our experience and expertise. We should be involved in all aspects of society. We have the right to go to school without facing so many obstacles. To use public transport without worrying about being able to access it. To start a family. To have a job and save up. To run businesses. To participate in political life and, why not, run our province and our country. But all of this is still quite the challenge for us.

In the end, will society have the courage, determination and audacity to advocate for our presence and give us our rightful place?

Paul Lupien is chairman of the board of the Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec (COPHAN), a confederation of non-profit organizations fighting for the rights of disabled persons.