by Benjamin Davis
**UPDATE: There are also a series of in-person consultations happening across the country over the next few months. Follow this link to a blogpost listing where and when they are happening and how you can get involved. **
What does true accessibility look like? The ability to access one’s surroundings is crucial to living a life without barriers, but true accessibility is more than just a physical issue. There are so many issues that fall under the umbrella term “accessibility”: timely and flexible access to employment and income supports; quality medical care and treatments; reliable public transportation; education and counselling; support for family members and caregivers; workplace accommodations; and advancements in MS research leading to better symptom management and quality of life for people living with multiple sclerosis.
An important thing is currently happening in government: federal representatives are working to establish legislation for accessibility, and you can get involved through a series of consultations. These consultations are a huge starting point for change, a very exciting sign of progress, and a meaningful step towards better inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities. People with episodic illnesses like MS should be a part of this much needed overhaul, and we encourage you to participate in the consultation process.
Deadline: February 2017
Mail (see website)
Remember Karen Scott? She actively participates in the fight to make her neighbourhood more accessible by asking her local government to fix inadequate curb cuts, lengthen crossing signals that are too short for people using mobility aids, and adapt bus shelters to allow room for wheelchairs and scooters. There are lots of ways you can get involved in advocating for a more accessible environment, and this consultation is one of them.
The Government of Canada is developing new planned accessibility legislation to promote equality of opportunity and increase the inclusion and participation of Canadians who have disabilities. The consultation will look at the following:
Physical and architectural barriers
Attitudes, beliefs, and misconceptions
Outdated policies and practices
Inclusion and access are at the core of what we fight for. In my role as national vice-president, government relations, I’m especially excited about this consultation and hope to see widespread engagement from people living with MS. This is a very tangible way people can participate in moving forward accessibility issues in general.
Deadline: September 30, 2016
MS is Canada’s disease, and we are lucky to have some of the world’s leading researchers working to end it. MS research is essential to developing new treatment options, speeding up the process of diagnosis, equipping people with information, and learning more about the cause of the disease.
In order to fulfill our mission: to be a leader in finding a cure for multiple sclerosis and enabling people affected by MS to enhance their quality of life, we need to ensure that the programs and infrastructures currently in place within our federal government are supporting science in Canada by removing any barriers our scientists face which prevent them from achieving their goals, and encouraging Canadians researchers to take on bold new challenges.
Last month, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science launched an independent review of federal funding for fundamental science, and is seeking your input.
“Our government must ensure its support for fundamental research is coherent, effective and agile enough to keep pace with the dynamic nature of contemporary science. I encourage all Canadians to participate in this review by submitting their thoughts to this esteemed panel. Science, after all, is everybody’s business.” – The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science
It’s crucial that Canadians affected by MS make their voices heard on this front to ensure that MS research receives its due importance when it comes to positioning Canada as a global leader in finding a cure.
Deadline: October 21, 2016
Sep-Oct 2016: Expert roundtables will take place to discuss new approaches to housing challenges that could become part of the strategy. A national roundtable may also be held. Participate online or by uploading a written statement of your ideas.
There is currently a shortage of accessible and affordable housing options, especially in safe neighbourhoods for Canadians with disabilities. As you move further into rural areas, this is even more of a challenge. MS is a disease that progresses very quickly, making it difficult for those affected to remain at home because of the need for timely and responsive home care and the costs of renovations for a truly accessible home. People need affordable and accessible housing that includes considerations for increased home modification supports and responsive and comprehensive home care.
“Transition and medical costs can add up incredibly fast, and it isn’t hard to imagine what kind of stress that can put on families who don’t have access to a solid support system.” – Ean Bull, whose wife, Dolly was diagnosed with MS in 2011.
As our federal government works alongside provinces and territories through this consultation process, your voice can make a difference in ensuring that people with disabilities and episodic illnesses like MS have access to safe, good quality, accessible and affordable housing options going forward.
Deadline: November, 2016
Last May we asked people living with MS what independence means to them. One of the things we heard was that having the ability to choose one’s own course of treatment was key to maintaining independence — and that means having access to different options. Marijuana may not be everyone’s choice, but if it works for some, we believe they should have the right to choose it.
Canada is taking an important step towards legalizing marijuana in a way that is safe and fair. The government has launched a taskforce which will work alongside provincial, territorial and municipal governments, Indigenous governments and representative organizations, youth, and experts in relevant fields, including: public health, substance abuse, criminal justice, law enforcement, economics, and industry and those groups with expertise in production, distribution and sales.
We hope to see widespread participation in this consultation by our stakeholders to ensure that Canadians affected by MS have access to as wide a range of treatment options as possible, and are able to maintain the independence afforded by these options.
Deadline: End of 2017
Your feedback on the paper can be submitted by e-mail to email@example.com or by phone at 1-800-669-5575.
Accessible public transportation is a hugely important piece of the puzzle when it comes to maintaining independence, accessibility and inclusion. Access to transportation means being able to keep a steady job, making it to important appointments, maintaining an active social life, and running necessary errands including picking up medication.
“I couldn’t imagine what I would do if I couldn’t drive. So much of my independence, freedom, and happiness come from being able to go into the city to my MS support groups, shop, and visit my oldest daughter and beautiful grandchildren. With sports season just starting, I’m looking forward to seeing a tonne of baseball games with my granddaughter, and lacrosse games with my grandson. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if I couldn’t drive, and it’s one of the things that would be devastating to give up.” – Denise
There is currently a discussion paper available, and the Government of Canada is consulting with its accessibility advisory committee on how regulatory measures can help make the federal transportation network accessible for persons with disabilities. We hope to see widespread participation in this survey by our membership to ensure that the voices of those living with MS are heard.
Labour market transfer agreements
NOTE: This consultation is closed. The MS Society have provided feedback to this consultation on behalf of Canadians living with MS.
The Government of Canada have released a discussion paper.
We’ve talked about the importance of flexible income and employment supports for people living with MS before. One of our top priorities is to change our current system of employment and income supports so that they are more flexible for people with chronic and episodic illnesses like MS. We co-commissioned a report from one of Canada’s top think thanks, the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP), called Leaving Some Behind: What Happens When Workers Get Sick. The report is now one of our most powerful tools in advocating for fundamental changes to income and employment supports across private and public systems through employment insurance, Canada Pension Plan – Disability, and private insurance systems.
The role of technology in the lives of people with MS is rapidly evolving. While “traditional” tools – assistive devices like scooters and leg braces, to name a few – continue to help those living with disabilities maintain independence and carry out everyday tasks, advances in robotics and digital media are filtering into other dimensions of the MS experience.
Mobile apps, wearable devices, robot-assisted rehabilitation, functional electrical stimulation and online communities are all recent examples of innovative solutions to symptom management for people living with MS. We’re funding teams like Hack 4 Health, who are working right now to find tech solutions for people living with MS, particularly in managing the many symptoms of MS.
There are six areas which our federal government will focus on during this consultation:
promoting an entrepreneurial and creative society
supporting global science excellence
building world-leading clusters and partnerships
growing companies and accelerating clean growth
competing in a digital world
improving ease of doing business
“The country is at its most prosperous when everyone has a fair chance at success. […] That’s why Canada needs an inclusive plan to foster a confident nation of innovators—one that is globally competitive in promoting research, translating ideas into new products and services, accelerating business growth and propelling entrepreneurs from the start-up phase to international success. The way forward is to act on a bold new vision: to build Canada as a global centre for innovation.” – From the government of Canada’s website
Accessibility is an issue that extends far beyond the physical realm; it’s also about income, employment, housing, transportation, access to medicines, access to care, and ongoing research into ways we can improve the lives of Canadians living with disabilities and episodic illnesses. Get involved, have your say, and be a part of this important shift toward a truly inclusive Canada for people living with disabilities.
Let us know in the comments: which consultation is most relevant to your life?