International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Honourable senators, today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. On this day, I dedicate my statement to the Honourable Senator Asha Seth. Honourable senators, the day this year is commemorated under the theme Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology.

All of us here can appreciate the presence and impact of technology in virtually every aspect of life. It is incredible, for instance, how information and communications technologies have evolved so swiftly and powerfully, affecting our work, our connectivity to people, our access to information and, as a result, our perspectives on the world.

Within Canada, 8 of 10 people with disabilities use some kind of supportive device to carry out their daily activities. Many of these devices are the results of technology, such as specialized computers, electronic wheelchairs and hearing aids. Unfortunately, the road to equal employment opportunities and an inclusive workforce is blocked by impediments that even the most advanced technology cannot overcome. Among them are negative and fearful attitudes about hiring people with disabilities.

Some 800,000 working-age Canadians with disabilities are not participating in the workforce. Statistics from Statistics Canada show the employment rate of Canadians aged 25 to 64 with disabilities at 49 per cent compared to 79 per cent employment for those without a disability. We have to think about that.

Their unemployment doesn’t hold only them back; it also hinders the entire population of this country from realizing its potential. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace matter to us all. They are social values, and it is time we live up to them. At this very moment, employers from all sectors have access to talent that can help them to achieve their business goals. It is absurd that stories of labour shortages are still making headlines when we have this workforce ready and willing to work. The real story is that thousands of people with disabilities are highly skilled, highly motivated and unemployed.

In recognition of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I’m hosting a special luncheon tomorrow. There will be a lot of folks I would like you to meet in Room 256-S, Centre Block, from noon until 1:30 p.m. You are all invited to join other parliamentarians and representatives from disability organizations, thought leaders and members of the business community to celebrate the talent, skills and contributions to society of people with disabilities. There will also be a screening of a documentary titled Talent Untapped by Anna-Karina Tabuñar. There are so many reasons to come by, all of them good. I hope to see you there.