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article imageCelebrity Op-Ed: Accessibility as a Basic Human Right

By Digital Journal Staff     Jan 19, 2009 in Lifestyle
Disabled people deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, argues David Onley, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. In the first of's five-part Celebrity Guest Writer series, Onley wants accessibility for everyone.
This is the first in a series of Celebrity Guest Writers offering their insight into issues close to their experiences. Check out tomorrow's to see what other topics will be investigated and discussed by some of the world's leading thinkers and leaders.
by David Onley
According to the most recent UN figures, around 650 million people, or 10 per cent of the world’s population, live with a disability. Anecdotal evidence would indicate a figure closer to 1 billion. Either way, people with disabilities make up what the UN terms “the world’s largest minority.”
Having lived with a disability most of my life since contracting polio at three, I care passionately about the issues and challenges around disability and, in particular, about the issue of accessibility. For people with disabilities, accessibility means inclusion in the political, cultural, and economic life of our society. Accessibility means allowing them to achieve their full potential.
My dream is of a fully accessible society, one in which disability rights are seen as basic human rights, and people with disabilities can live independent lives, with all the freedoms that the rest of the population take for granted. For example, when a person is dependent on a wheelchair or motorized scooter to get around, it is hard to imagine having the freedom to go out for dinner and a movie, on a whim, forgoing the usual complicated exercise in logistics. The freedom of getting on and off public transport, without incurring the irritation of inconvenienced passengers, is unheard of. And the freedom of taking off for some R&R in the sun, without notifying the taxi company, the airline, the airport, and the hotel, of one’s accessibility needs, is, like the song says, to dream the impossible dream.
The greatest freedom of all would be to apply for a job, confident that one’s candidacy will be judged by the normal criteria of your initial resume, a good interview, and great references from previous employers, just like the other applicants.
A disabled couple in Israel
A Jerusalem couple get around via wheelchair
Photo by Hanan Cohen
The reality is very different. According to the United Nations, at least half of all disabled people in developed nations (and the vast majority of those in developing countries) are unemployed. And yet, globally, employers are projecting a shortage of 31 million skilled workers by 2010 and 56 million by 2020. On the one hand, you have a significant, under-utilized reservoir of willing and ambitious workers; on the other, a looming global shortage of skilled workers. Seems like a no-brainer to me. These are sound economic reasons for governments and businesses to ensure that appropriate levels of training and job opportunity are available for people with disabilities.
There are signs that this is beginning to happen. More than eighty countries signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in March 2007 – the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the third millennium. It will come into force 30 days after its ratification for 20 nations and already 10 nations have done so.
On the business front, there is Lime Connect, a New York-based not-for-profit, founded by Merrill Lynch, with PepsiCo and Goldman Sachs as partners. It aims to bridge the gap between the corporate and disability communities. These are companies with global recognition who see the merit in utilizing the staggering market potential of people with disabilities, which Lime Connect estimates as an emerging market equivalent to the size of China.
Experience around the world has shown that people with disabilities make excellent employees, with high performance ratings and retention rates, as well as better attendance records than their colleagues without disabilities. And the costs of accessibility for people with disabilities, both as employees and as customers, are minimal, compared with the benefits.
Victor Hugo wrote, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Accessibility as a basic human right is one of those ideas. Its time is now.
The Honourable David C. Onley
David Onley is Ontario's Lieutenant Governor
Photo by
David C. Onley is the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. He was appointed The Queen’s representative of Ontario in 2007. He has championed disability issues on many fronts and for many years. Having lived with polio and post-polio syndrome since the age of three, he has broken through social barriers and become a role model. He has chaired the Government of Ontario’s Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, and served on the SkyDome Accessibility Council and the Air Canada Centre Accessibility Committee. His best-selling novel Shuttle was nominated as Book of the Year in 1982 by the Periodical Distributor's Association, and he has contributed to television, radio and publications, often with a focus on science, technology, and faith. He also worked with TV news network CityTV for 22 years as an anchor and host/producer. He was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame and the Scarborough Walk of Fame.
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