Addressing Accessibility as a Human Rights Issue
Despite progress in creating more inclusive societies, people with communication disabilities and hearing loss still face significant accessibility barriers in their communities and workplaces.
Here in Canada, we know that one in five people aged 20 to 79 has some degree of hearing loss, with hearing loss prevalence rising sharply after age 40, to reach 65% at ages 70 to 79. Communication Disabilities Access Canada estimates that over 440,000 Canadians have significant speech, language, and communication disabilities.
As we approach the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ (UN) Declaration of Human Rights, it is important for countries such as Canada to address accessibility, including communication access, as a human rights issue.
While Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 and has long-standing pieces of legislation that ban disability as a form of discrimination, these pieces of legislation do not fully address issues surrounding accessibility. In recent years, the federal government and several provincial governments in Canada have committed to developing specific laws to ensure that people with disabilities are treated fairly and have access to government services.
The government of Canada is currently developing the Accessible Canada Act, a new federal law centered on accessibility. The Act aims to ensure all areas of federal jurisdiction are free from barriers to accessibility, which will help all people living in Canada, but especially those with disabilities. The Act is also a significant step in Canada’s ongoing implementation of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
The Act aims to ensure all areas of federal jurisdiction are free from barriers to accessibility, which will help all people living in Canada, but especially those with disabilities.
Recognizing that communication (including access to a variety of communication methods) is a basic human right, Speech-Language & Audiology Canada (SAC) recently partnered with other like-minded not-for-profit organizations on the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance (FALA). FALA’s mission is to maximize the impact of the new federal accessibility legislation in creating a fully inclusive and accessible Canadian society.
FALA has recommended that the Act include communication as a priority area, thereby bringing focus to barriers, accommodations, and supports for people with hearing loss as well as for those with communication disabilities.
The Accessible Canada Act is just the first step in ensuring that everyone can fully participate in Canadian society. Once the Act is implemented, the government of Canada (both as an employer and as a provider of services), provinces and territories, businesses, and all other partners must work together to lay the groundwork for an accessible future.
It is critically important that any accessibility measures put forward by governments or global organizations take into consideration the needs of those with communication and hearing challenges. Access to communication must be viewed as a basic human right around the world, and that view requires all of us to continue to advocate for those with communication and hearing challenges.
Written by Emily Banzet, manager of communications and marketing for Speech-Language & Audiology Canada.
Read more about the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.