International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Honourable senators, today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It is a wonderful occasion for individuals and groups to recognize the contributions of people with disabilities — I like to put it the other way, the ability to do what we can’t do — this year, under the theme “Break Barriers, Open Doors: For An Inclusive Society For All.” That means more jobs for those with developmental disabilities and those with physical disabilities.

The UN states that one billion people — one billion people throughout the world — have a form of disability. This represents about 15 per cent of the global population. It also represents a limitless potential. Unfortunately for us all, there are barriers preventing people with disabilities from fully participating in their communities: physical barriers, social barriers, economic barriers, prejudice. They are prevalent and they take many forms.

Tonight I will have the pleasure of participating in the Celebration of People Awards here in Ottawa. This special Citizen Advocacy event is held each year on this date to acknowledge individuals and organizations from the Ottawa area for their commitment to improving accessibility for people with disabilities. The emphasis these days is really about jobs and full employment — that sort of inclusiveness.

I’d like to mention that the Canadian Association for Community Living has an incredible new program just beginning. They had a tremendous reception this morning for breakfast. The program is called Ready, Willing and Able: Tapping the Potential of People with Developmental Disabilities for an Inclusive and Effective Labour Market. This is a fascinating program that is starting to work with employers like Costco Wholesale, Rogers Communications, Canadian Tire, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws. The government is going to play a role. I know the federal government is going to play a role, because they’ve been lobbied, I think successfully, by Community Living. This is going to be a tremendous program: Ready, Willing and Able.

By recognizing and showcasing the wonderful example set by those who believe in and act on values of diversity and social equality, we can inspire others to do the same. It is an incredible and brave approach based on the assumption that our community — and when I say “our community,” I mean Canada — is a caring community and that each of us has the capacity to make a positive difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

In closing, as long as there are barriers hindering people from living fully, we are all being deprived of the rich experiences and benefits of a truly inclusive society. I encourage you, honourable senators, to reflect on this and to visit the sites of the United Nations and Celebration of People for more information on what is being done and how you can help people with disabilities live as they should, as accepted and engaged members of society. Stay tuned for Ready, Willing and Able.