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October 2, 2013

The Ghetto

Tonight I attended the All Party Panel Discussion on cross-disability issues at the Bloomfield Centre. Three candidates spoke.

I quickly grew tired of Mr. Estey's (NDP) somewhat self-promotional lecturing on the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities. I invite him to use this space to explain how Nova Scotians stand to benefit from a treaty which the federal government signed and ratified, but has no intention of implementing. I've written about how the feds are coming up on 2 years overdue on their first report. Nova Scotia is not a sovereign nation and did not sign the treaty. As far as I know there are no meaningful federal - provincial talks in the works. Harper has plenty of leverage to keep Nova Scotia from striking out on its own, so Estey is stuck with the kind of incrementalism people with disabilities find so frustrating.  "We'll get there".  "We have a framework".  The UN Convention is a distraction.

Both the PC and Liberal representatives relied heavily on personal narratives, as they have children with disabilities (as does Estey).  Estey had the good sense to leave his child out of it, but the others were patronizing with their "I know your pain".

The PC guy was a prisoner of his ideology - the mantra of lower taxes and more jobs wears thin when viewed from a wheelchair. Job interviews are upstairs, my good man. No, there is no elevator.

The Liberals have an actual plank in their platform:
  • Create a more accessible Nova Scotia for persons with disabilities by appointing an Accessibility Advisory Committee with a mandate and strict timeline to develop accessibility legislation for Nova Scotia.
But Kelly Regan did an indifferent job of articulating that.  She should have had the audience eating from her hand.

Towards the end of the second hour, the word "ghetto" flashed through my mind, then stuck. It occurred to me that "disability" is a term used to mean that conventional services have reached some limit and that the subject individual has become something different.  When systems get overtaxed, you get "disabled",  None of the three candidates seemed to grasp that.

So educators, when education gets difficult, classify kids as "intellectually disabled".  The medical establishment, which will buy you a new hip, even two, won't buy you a wheelchair if they can't cure you.  You're disabled!

The welfare bureaucrats will keep you from starving, but mask their shortcomings by erecting a thousand barriers to normal life. No, you can't hold any job if you receive disability supports. No, you can't get educated.  You're disabled!

When the bus stop is poorly designed or far away, you get the vastly inferior Access-a-Bus.  Real people never ride this system (especially not the people in charge), so they don't know what an indignity it is.  You're disabled!

What the people in tonight's audience share is not some independently verifiable thing called "disability", but exhaustion of conventional support.  They exceed the ability of social systems to cope.  They are trapped in a virtual ghetto and have little in common with their neighbors.  No wonder it's so hard to get out.  They represent society's failures, not their own. They are isolated, stigmatized and marginalized.

No, the way to climb out of the ghetto is by asserting every person's individuality.  As a person, not a disabled person, one becomes equally entitled to a job, an education, recreation, personal safety and the benefits of good government.  The UN Convention says the right things, but it isn't the law of Canada.  A Nova Scotians with Disabilities Act must be enacted.  As a person with rights you can make demands without fear of becoming an alien in your own land.

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