International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Honourable senators, yesterday, December 3, was the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year, it is being celebrated around the world, under the theme of removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all. I am fortunate to have inspiring friends and associates involved in addressing issues affecting people with disabilities. Last night I had the pleasure of being the honorary chair at the Celebration of People Awards Dinner in Ottawa, with many of these very people in this city of champions, these courageous people who work together in advocacy with Citizen Advocacy. Together, we presented awards to some amazing individuals with disabilities and their supporters for their contributions to the Ottawa community. Each in their own way, those we celebrated throughout the event are fulfilling a shared vision to enable people with disabilities to rise from vulnerability and isolation, to live as accepted and engaged members of our community.

In a letter I received earlier this month, the Christian Blind Mission in Toronto asked me to make a statement here in this chamber today to emphasize to honourable senators that all societies are richer when everyone is included equally.

By eliminating discrimination and exclusion, we can create a diverse and inclusive society. This is a society, a future to be proud of. To knock down the barriers, we must first recognize those same barriers, to know what they are and how they impact persons with disabilities. In a statement delivered yesterday, Liberal leader Bob Rae commented that far too many persons with disabilities are “. . . denied the quality education, the employment and overall life outcomes they deserve, including in Canada, where people with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty.”

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and it is as good an occasion as any to commit to the work required to improve the lives of people with disabilities. We have to work together with the federal government to keep this moving on, to collaborate with other levels of government and stakeholders to create an action plan. More than 1 billion people — 15 per cent of the world’s population — live with some form of disability. They are the world’s largest minority.

Learning about and setting goals to address issues affecting those with disabilities is not only a Canadian responsibility; it is not only an international responsibility either. It is a human responsibility, and it is time we begin living up to it.