The following is an open letter I sent to Justin Trudeau this morning regarding the lack of accessibility at Liberal Party events.
Dear Justin Trudeau,
While there are many visions for the future of Canada, one vision I think we can all endorse is that of a fully accessible country that embraces citizens with disabilities as being full members of Canadian society. Despite the protections guaranteed for the disabled through the Human Rights Code of Canada, systemic ableism still prevents the full inclusion of Canadians with disabilities in public, private and political life in our country. I received a blunt reminder of this fact when, earlier this week, I received via email an invitation to partake in a Liberal event in my hometown of London, Ontario. As a citizen with a disability who uses an electric wheelchair, I was dismayed to discover that all of the venues chosen for these coffee house events were not wheelchair accessible, which meant that I would be unable to participate in the discussions.
The question of access goes far beyond the local riding association here in London, who to their credit did respond promptly and apologize for their mistake and promised to be more inclusive in the future. The problem is that riding associations across the country are planning events right now, a vast majority of which will not consider the urgent need to provide access for citizens with disabilities to participate. This is, in part, because so few riding associations have representation for the disabled community, for a variety of reasons that are outside the scope of this letter.
At issue here, though, is that accessibility for the disabled is not fully embraced as a core principle of the Liberal Party, leaving many citizens with disabilities sitting on the outside looking in on a political process that actively legislates disabled lives while giving the disabled little opportunity to voice our concerns about said system. It should go without saying that I do not believe the Liberal Party is actively attempting to oppress the disabled population. After all, it was the Liberal Party of Ontario who brought about the progressive, though flawed, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to the provincial legislature in 2005. Instead, this is a subtle oppression born out of the reality that the disabled population for so long have lived outside the purview of mainstream society, forgotten out of the public eye in our homes and institutions. Rarely are our needs considered in the planning process, resulting in a vicious cycle of forgetting to include the disabled because the disabled are not included.
A strong democracy is one built upon the foundation of diverse opinion and experience, in which many voices are harmonized into the chorus of a better tomorrow. It should go without saying that any political events must be accessible to all of the electorate, regardless of ability. As leader of the Liberal Party, I writing you today to request the creation of an overt policy mandating all Liberal events, federally and provincially, be fully accessible to ensure that all Canadians, including those with disabilities, can fully participate in the democratic process. Further, I implore you to become a champion of accessibility by embedding inclusive design practices into all of your own policies and events planning processes.
Ableism is a deeply entrenched ideology that is built upon ignorance and misperception. With your help, we can curb the power of ableism by ensuring more disabled voices are heard in Canada.
Thank you for your time,
Jeffrey Preston, PhD