Good morning, and thank you for this opportunity to appear before this esteemed committee and to share part of the research of the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance that I hope may be of use to you in your deliberations towards the passage of Bill C-81.
I will begin by commending the government on fulfilling its promise to Canadians with disabilities on the timely pursuit of this legislation and on the broad consultation undertaken.
My name is Mary Ann McColl. I'm a professor in the school of rehabilitation science and associate director of the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at Queen's University.
However, I'm here today in my role as the academic lead of the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance. The alliance is a national collaboration of disability scholars, advocates and policy-makers who are committed to understanding and enhancing disability policy in Canada. The CDPA is also a member of the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, led by Spinal Cord Injury Canada from whom I believe you're hearing tomorrow.
I understand that one of the objectives associated with the passage of Bill C-81 is the adoption of a disability lens, or a process that is reasonable, effective and efficient, for use by everyone in the public service to ensure that all government activities, including legislation, regulation, programs and reports, are considered in light of their implications for people with disabilities.
Such a lens would need to meet a number of criteria. It would need to be easily understood and presume no prior knowledge of disability. It would need to be written in plain language, be brief and efficient to use, comprehensive in terms of all types of disability and all types of policy, compatible with contemporary views and scholarship on disability, and evidence-based. I hope I'm not missing anything in those criteria. It sounds like a tall order, but I'm here today to represent a tool that was developed with exactly those criteria in mind: the CDPA's disability policy lens.
The lens was first developed in 2006, based on an exhaustive review of the literature on disability policy analysis in preparation for a book, Disability and Social Policy in Canada, by myself and Lyn Jongbloed. Since 2006, it has been used by many disability scholars and graduate students in Canada and internationally, and has been cited in numerous publications. In 2017, it was refined and pilot-tested in collaboration with staff from the Office For Disability Issues and the minister's office.
I believe you have the lens in front of you.
The lens takes the reader through a series of seven questions that go to the heart of contemporary disability policy analysis. However, it does not favour any particular ideology or stance. It merely asks the user to be explicit, to state their assumptions and to examine them.
Let's take a closer look at the questions.
The first question asks whether the situation of people with disabilities is explicitly mentioned in the policy. Have their interests and implications been overtly considered, or is it assumed that the implications for people with disabilities are the same as for anyone else, and is that a legitimate assumption?
Second, if disability is mentioned explicitly, how is it defined? Currently, a number of definitions are in force in the federal policy infrastructure—for example, definitions associated with the Canada pension plan, the Canada student loan program, and the disability tax credit. Does the current definition conform with any of those, and does the policy focus on the right group of people? Who was left out, and who determines who is eligible to be considered?
The third question asks what the policy tries to do for people with disability. According to Bickenbach, there are typically three aims of disability policy: access—ensuring the ability to participate; support—providing the necessary goods and services; and equity—ensuring freedom from discrimination. Although admittedly interrelated, there's usually a dominant goal that the policy addresses. If it's equity, what kind of equity is sought: horizontal, vertical or outcome equity?
The fourth question of the disability policy lens looks at the contemporary view of disability.
We no longer look at disability as something that is wrong with a person. That would have been the biomedical definition. Instead, we consider someone with a disability as someone who is prevented from having the life that they seek because of barriers encountered in a society not designed with them in mind.
Question 4 addresses the view of disability espoused by a policy. Are people with disabilities considered a minority group, with special interests or special needs, or are they simply considered citizens entitled to the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as other citizens?
Although it may sound like the answer should always be the latter, in many situations disabled people need to be singled out for special consideration, accommodations, benefits or programs.
The fifth question asks how this policy relates to other policies, first within this jurisdiction and then in other jurisdictions. Is something being given with one hand and taken away with the other? Is the policy objective either duplicated or undermined by policy elsewhere?
Sixth, who are the other stakeholders whose interests need to be considered alongside those of people with disabilities? I don't need to tell you about this. Balancing the competing needs and desires of multiple stakeholders is what you do every day, but I have listed a few examples of other groups whose needs need to be considered, such as other minority groups or businesses in the private sector.
Finally, who are the advocates or proponents of the policy and who are its detractors or opponents? Where might we expect to encounter support or opposition? What might be the fallout of that opposition and how can it be countered?
I hope you will agree that these seven questions that make up the CDPA's disability policy lens represent a process that meets the criteria set out at the outset: brief, evidence-based, versatile, easy to understand and administer, and compatible with contemporary disability studies.
Thank you for your attention and interest in our work. I'll be happy to take questions.