A Look At Disability Rights In North America.
Even though Stainton said Canada has lost its place as a world leader in disability rights, the movement has challenged all of us on a number of charged philosophical and political fronts.
With differing degrees of success, disability-rights advocates have urged Canadians and others to:
- Change the way we talk about and understand disabled people.
- Stop stigmatizing people with disabilities.
- Spend tax dollars on including the disabled in all facets of life.
- Force employers to accommodate people with disabilities.
- Oppose voluntary assisted suicide for those with severe disabilities.
- Respond to the connection between disability and poverty.
- Not forget the disabled in developing countries.
A more crucial emphasis for disabled-rights proponents, perhaps, has been on the need to make a firm distinction between the "medical" and "social" models of disability.
The "medical" model, said campaigners, came out of science in the early 20th century. It was individualistic. The medical model acts as if a person's disability, whether a missing limb or paraplegia, is medical "damage," which places the disabled person outside human normalcy.
In response, advocates of the "social model" of disability have been arguing since the 1970s that the problem for people with disabilities is not that they're in a wheelchair, without a limb or blind.
It is that society doesn't accommodate them, whether with disabled-only parking or books in braille.
With the discussion thus shifting to communal rights for the disabled, people in Canada and much of the Western world began to put their emphasis on reducing social barriers to access and inclusion.
The complex debate over disability models continues to boil, as governments, businesses and employers in the industrialized world are increasingly compelled to do everything they can to accommodate disabled men and women.
Given that the Canadian Charter of Rights forbids any form of "discrimination" on the basis of "physical disability," is there any limit to how far an organization must go to include a person who is visually impaired, in a wheelchair or without a limb?
Even while governments and businesses are being pressed by legislation to include disabled people in every aspect of life, Stainton said courts have been ruling there are financial limits to consider in providing "reasonable accommodation."
The battle for disabled rights has had other unpredicted twists and turns.
One of them is over the so-called "right to die." As advocates for the disabled have continued battling for recognition, they have clashed with people who want laws in Canada and the U.S. permitting assisted suicide for those with severe disabilities and terminal conditions.
Even though polls show the majority of Canadians support regulated euthanasia, disability rights activists have strongly lobbied politicians to make sure no one, regardless of the severity of their disability, should be able to choose an assisted suicide.
In this increasingly bitter debate, disabled activists claim legalizing assisted suicide would be an ethical "slippery slope" that would lead to all disabled people, no matter the degree of their impairment, being devalued as human beings.
In turn, advocates for assisted suicide maintain the arguments of disabled-rights activists are a misplaced over-reaction to their proposals.