By Meagan Casalino
Carleton University hosted the National Youth Forum on Accessible Canada on Nov. 1, inviting youth from across the nation to present their ideas on how to make Canada more accessible.
Ontario and Manitoba are the only two provinces in Canada that have an accessibility act in place.
When the Liberal government released the federal budget last year, it included launching a national disabilities act; allocating $2 million over the course of two years in order to develop the Canadians with Disabilities Act.
The forum, held in Carleton’s residence commons, provided a platform for the youth of Canada to express their concerns and hopes for accessibility within our country.
Spencer, a grade 11 student from St. Boniface Diocesan High School, MB, said the forum focused on accessibility issues in Canada and the solutions that can help fix them.
“Whether it’s a ramp or an elevator, even just changing the heights of counters, everything can be more accessible,” he said. “In Canada, it’s more of how can we change the attitude of people.”
Spencer said he sees a lot of barriers for him in older buildings and businesses with lack of funding when it comes to wheelchair accessibility, but he said the barriers go beyond just the disabilities we can see.
“It’s not just physical barriers that we have to really worry about,” he said. “It’s all barriers. Whether it’s for sight impaired, hearing impaired, and mental illnesses. Every disability matters in the sense of removing barriers so that everyone has access to the same things.”
Andrew Fenwick and Rocco Scarcella are students and advocates for accessibility awareness at the University of Manitoba. They came to the forum to share their opinions on how to make Canada more accessible.
“I find that lots of politicians take a soapbox stand when they come in. They try to get their own ideas out, where this [forum] is kind of more bottom-up,” Fenwick said. “It’s a good start to switching the dialogue more from people who have more experience dealing with the barriers first hand.
“The coolest idea I have heard today was adding ASL [American Sign Language] and LSQ [Langue des signes du Québec]as official languages to Canada. It was an idea that I never thought about.”
Scarcella said he would like to see more co-op programs available to students with disabilities to have a better chance of getting a job after university.
Following the introduction of the landmark Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, Ontario is said to be on track for full accessibility by 2025, according to an online statement by economic development, employment, and infrastructure minister Brad Duguid. But Scarcella said he thinks this is a lofty goal and it won’t be accomplished until 2030.
“I think we’re talking long-term,” he said. “This [act] is just a stepping stone.”
Prime Minster Justin Trudeau made a surprise appearance at the forum. According to Accessible Canada’s twitter page; he spoke about his vision to make Canada more accessible in the future.
“We are lucky to be apart of what is the most incredible, wonderful, open country in the world, but we always have challenges and we always need to work hard to do more.”
Trudeau explained the purpose of the forum is to reduce and address the barriers that Canadians face, allowing students to ask him questions about the specifics of the new Canadians with Disabilities Act.
“Our country and our world needs to go through significant changes while folding in young people’s voices and engaging with you about how we do to challenge the status quo.”
The forum was held in both written and spoke in English, French, ASL and LSQ.