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Public Health and An Effective Ontarians With Disabilities Act

A. The need to promote disability within public health
B. Why we need an Ontarians With Disabilities Act
C. Developing an Ontarians With Disabilities Act
D. What can public health do to support the development of an effective ODA?
E. More information about developing an effective ODA
F. References

By Ivan Brown

Ivan Brown is a senior researcher and director of the Disabilities Support Unit at the Centre for Health Promotion. He is a recognized expert in the disabilities field, both in Canada and internationally, and is co-editor of a recently-published scholarly text entitled Developmental Disabilities in Ontario.

A. The need to promote disability within public health

Data collected by Statistics Canada in 1991 showed that 17.7% of Canadians were described as having disabilities. Disability Rates varied somewhat across provinces and territories, ranging from a low of 11.2% in Newfoundland to a high of 24.6% in Nova Scotia. When these Canadians were described by their principal disability, the seven categories, in descending order of frequency, were: mobility, agility, seeing, hearing, speaking, other, and unknown (Statistics Canada, 1999).

Current views on disability reflect the "social model" of disability. The social model conceptualizes disability as something that arises not from difference itself, but rather from the disadvantage people experience in relation to others because of their particular differences and characteristics (Bach, 1999). Thus, being hearing impaired is only a disability if hearing is absolutely required for daily living by the environment in which you live, and having trouble walking is only a disability if accommodations are not present that enable you to get easily to where you wish to go. In this view, disability is a social responsibility. Its very meaning is determined, and can be readily altered, by social response to difference. The implicit goal of "dealing" with disability is to minimize it through ongoing efforts, and the responsibility for doing so lies with us all.

The question of just how to get broad support for assuming this social responsibility for disability is an interesting one, but it is generally considered that the state as a whole needs to show leadership and take action to promote social responsibility. The governments of both Ontario and Canada have set out a general framework for social responsibility through such venues as the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and these are enforced to some degree by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the courts, and others.

In recent years, efforts to promote social responsibility for disability have come principally from the disability rights movement. This movement has involved people with disabilities themselves in advocating for equal treatment by arguing for their human rights, and has led to some advances in services and accommodations as well as to some increases in public support (ODA Committee, 1997). The disability rights movement has given a welcome human voice to disability, but it has also relieved the broader social order somewhat of taking responsibility for disability. For the social model to be effective in the long run, it is likely that a broader base for social responsibility will be required from a variety of interest and organizational fields of endeavour. Public health is one of the fields that appears to be well positioned to promote and assume social responsibility for disability.

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B. Why we need an Ontarians With Disabilities Act

The disabilities rights movement, public health, and other fields of endeavour will find it easier to accomplish the task of promoting social responsibility for disability if they have a state-sanctioned framework from which to work that is more specific than that which is now available. A strong precedent for establishing such a framework is the success of the Americans With Disabilities Act which was signed into US law in 1990. The intent of this Act is to make the whole society more accessible to people with disabilities by promoting improvements in employment, public services, public accommodations, telecommunications, and other miscellaneous areas. Although there have been some difficulties associated with implementation of the Act in the US, it is widely considered that it provides a very helpful framework for promoting social responsibility for disability. Ontario has followed the implementation of this Act throughout the 1990s, and there has been a steadily growing body of opinion that legislation along these same lines would be beneficial for Ontario.

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C. Developing an Ontarians With Disabilities Act

During its first mandate which began in 1995, the current Ontario government undertook to develop an Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA). The result was Bill 83, a brief 2½ page proposed Act, that was introduced to the Ontario legislature in November 1998. Almost immediately, Bill 83 received widespread, and rather severe, criticism from the disability and other communities and from government opposition for not addressing in a comprehensive way the issues within the social environment of Ontario that would promote alleviation of disability (e.g., ODA Committee, 1998; Ontario Hansard, 1998). Bill 83 was not passed into law, but a year after it was first introduced a resolution passed unanimously in the Ontario legislature to develop and pass an Act within two years. This has renewed some hope, in spite of only modest public support from the government, that an effective ODA can be developed and enacted in Ontario within the next few years.

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D. What can public health do to support the development of an effective ODA?

Four actions that can be taken, ranging from general to specific, are:

* Adopt social responsibility for disability as one of its areas of focus.
* Promote opportunities for research and education in social responsibility for disability.
* Lend its support to the many community organizations that are working to develop ideas for an effective ODAA.
* Contribute ideas directly to the current ODA consultation process being conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation at

. More information about developing an effective ODA

* Americans With Disabilities Act ADA Homepage:
* Ontario Hansard. Opposition Day (ODA)
* Ontario Ministry of Citizenship, Culture, and Recreation. ODA Consultation: How to provide input.
* Ontario Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation. Preventing and removing barriers for Ontarians with disabilities.
* Ontarians with Disabilities Act ODA Committee [community action].

Bach, M. (1999). Current views on developmental disabilities. In I. Brown & M. Percy (Eds.), Developmental disabilities in Ontario (pp.33-42). Toronto, ON: Front Porch Publishing.

Kinder, D. (1996). The Americans With Disabilities Act: A brief overview. Retrieved January 3, 2000 from the Internet:

ODA Committee. (1997). Results from the Lou Harris poll. Retrieved November 18, 1999 from the World Wide Web:

ODA Committee (1998). ODA Committee Bill 83 Action Kit. Retrieved November 18, 1999 from the World Wide Web:

Ontario Hansard. (1998). Ontarians with disabilities legislation. Retrieved January 4, 2000 from the Internet:

Statistics Canada. (1999). Statistics Canada Canadian Statistics: Population. Ottawa, ON: Author. Retrieved December 16, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.StatCan.CA/english/Pgdb/People/popula.htm

[Editor's note: the text of Bill 83, the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 1998, is available on the Internet at From the menu on the left side of the homepage, choose Parliamentary Documents Archives, then choose the index for Bills and Status of Legislation from the 36th parliament, 2nd session. Scroll down for Bill 83. ]