Mr. Speaker, that really disappoints me. Friday was the fourteenth year that I have spent in this House. I came here with a variety of different experiences. I worked on behalf of persons with disabilities at Community Living Mississauga and then at the Association For Persons With Physical Disabilities. I was also a board member at the CNIB.
I can say that the member for Timmins—James Bay would add significantly to this debate. Although I have served in occupations and positions that helped support people with disabilities, as well as being a board volunteer, that does not do justice to those who have to live with young people and help grow them through a society that is inaccessible in many ways. I am saddened to hear that we did not have unanimous consent on that issue alone, given the fact that his voice would be empowering. It would be part of what we are trying to achieve, which is to have other nations support this bill, as we still do not have full support to accomplish that. That type of testimony would add value, substance, and help us put a case forward to deliver this. Unless we can get those supporting factions and countries to agree upon this, nothing will change. I am saddened by that.
Hopefully, we will see better days in the House than moments like this, as it takes away from the sincerity of trying to get something accomplished in a bipartisan way and demeans all of us with respect to the causes we seek here.
This is an important bill, and the member for Timmins—James Bay took carriage of it in the past. We have also had Peggy Nash, the former member for Parkdale—High Park from our party, who brought forward a motion which stated:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately sign and ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.
I know that the current member for Windsor—Tecumseh is taking up this challenge as well for persons with disabilities.
It is important to note that one of my heroes with respect to this battle was my late grandmother Marion Masse, who lived to over aged 90. She had to have her knees replaced. She had macular degeneration. Despite all of that, although she lost her vision, except for shadows at the end, she still won the bowling tournament for her rest home and was very much an active person. She was involved in creating the low vision for the blind group, an organization in Windsor and Essex County, that worked on issues that many of us would perceive as mundane, yet are truly important for social, economic, and cultural integration. One of the projects it worked on was menus being printed in large print or braille to assist people when they would go out to eat to read the menu. Also, it was about the fact that they could go to safe places where they could be with their friends. They knew that the customer service they would receive was supportive and understanding. It was part of a culture where their disabilities were not pointed out and barriers were not created.
One of the most frustrating things is that we are still creating barriers today, despite having the economics and the ability to not do so. We even experience that in the House. For a number of years, I have been using braille cards, as a member for my constituency and in my work here. The House of Commons will not allow my staff to have those because it is a resource issue. Therefore, the House of Commons is denying that accessibility and support provision.
Our constituency offices had been placed on hold for funding improvements. That has been cancelled with respect to upgrading. After years of putting aside some budgetary allotments, I was finally able to make my office accessible. That is not provided for us as members. Funds for upgrades were made available, so we were able to put in a door for accessibility, an accessible washroom, and those types of things. I would like to see an audit done of the offices of all members of Parliament, including my own. We would quickly discover that they are deficient with respect to accessibility, whether that be with respect to visual or mobility impairments. These different measures are not provided.
In fact, even without my previous employment experience as a job specialist, I can say that Ottawa is one of the most inaccessible cities in many respects around the Hill, because of the curbs. Even for those with a child, it is like off-roading when it comes to Sparks Street and other places. We build inaccessibility in as part of our due diligence of construction, and it is not necessary.
This treaty will be very important in Canada, in setting aside some battles on the cost and the compensation with regard to increasing accessible print, books, and audio. We see that happening with format sharing when we go to purchase a movie now. We can actually purchase it in formats that are different than what we would assume is one version. We can purchase it so it is available on a mobile device, on a computer, and as part of a video consul. We can purchase it online. We can go into the store and purchase it. There is a series of ways that we can do so.
We think about the same context with books and information and cultural development that we have. For those who think that the age of books is done, it has recently had a resurgence. There are many applications for people with visual disabilities, of any sort, who can take advantage of these materials. It is important.
I can also argue that there are people who may not qualify for the official recognition of a disability but who have some type of visual challenge. Obviously, I have one with my glasses here. However, there are others who have to switch between vision products and use some of these print versions, depending on the stage of their life. Macular degeneration, for example, is a condition of transitioning to a degradation of vision, and a person might need multiple formats.
This treaty will allow for some compensation to be extended, but under a specific format that, more importantly, would also allow the universal sharing of this information, whether that be a book on politics, culture, betterment, or children's material. All of those different things are looked at and taken care of. That is important, because it does tend to lead to a safe environment for persons with disabilities with visual impairments to explore different types of subject matter, which can also lead to different formats.
When I worked for the Association for Persons With Physical Disabilities, I worked with an individual who was blind and required modifications on the job. At that time, it was the beginning of allowing translation devices on computers. This was before Rosetta Stone and all of the different ones. The Dragon was before that, and there was a series of others that came into place. The devices would actually read back to people what they were typing. We were able to get into that type of technology in the early 1990s. It was not perfect, but it worked well. This individual could have a job, and it was very important.
I have had other important experiences over the years. I can mention this person's name because she is a dear friend and she was a client of mine. Lynn Fitzsimmons became a clerk in the insurance industry. What was required for Lynn was the simple identification of files. We had them in larger print and they were colour-coded. At dental offices and other types of medical offices, there are systems in place that are colour-coded to make it easier for the administrators to select those files off the counter. We did a similar type of system for Lynn, and she became gainfully employed. She is very much a leader in the disability field, and a wonderful mother and active person in our community, with her husband Phil.
We were able at that time to do the colour-coding system because we had to look for something that was economical. Working for a not-for-profit agency, we had very limited resources. It was at a time when there were cutbacks to all of these programs. It was the first program in Ontario that allowed support on the job for persons with physical disabilities.
The simple accessibility of these materials, which were not expensive to begin with, allowed for someone to be employed for approximately 10 years in that one position. It was an excellent system of colour-coding that enabled her to do the administrative work. Also, it allowed the individual for the insurance company to be extremely successful in this model environment, because he then hired her as an administrative assistant who could accomplish all of these goals.
The reason that this is important is because work defines us in many respects. However, this country is woefully inadequate with regard to the supports for persons with disabilities and work.
Work brings up a number of issues that are very important. One does not just get an income, but health, wellness, and mental and physical abilities are affected by work in a very positive fashion. We meet people, friends, and have relationships that we would not otherwise have, which brings us out of a closed environment. Therefore, when we see those opportunities emerge for persons with disabilities, it is quite important in the overall picture for Canada to be an equal society.
Sadly, we are not anywhere near that in Canada, hence my question previously with regard to upcoming matters. I do not think there needs to be consultation on certain issues. We should move the lower-hanging fruit off the tree right away to improve it.
I came from an era where we had employment equity. There were those who backlashed against it, but it opened a door for me to at least plead the case for why an employer could benefit from hiring a person with a disability, whether it be Lynn or other persons with physical challenges. We were able to say that they have less employee absenteeism. They have fewer work-related accidents. They stay longer on the job. Their training retention is a benefit that an employer would receive, as opposed to the expense of people rotating through a job. Most importantly, they also prove to be a product-quality person at the end of the day, versus many other workers getting the job done. Also, one of the indirect benefits is the fact that it is a morale boost for companies.
There was an individual with a physical disability who I had helped to work at Costco. I took in shopping carts with him for four to five months. He stayed there, and the job accommodated him six or seven years later. He had worked in a workshop until the age of 48 and was now employed at Costco. When he finally became physically challenged by the snow and the weather, Costco moved him inside and found a job for him there. It was a wonderful experience for everybody involved. He is an incredible individual.
My point is that socially, he would remember everyone's birthday, bring in a birthday card and all of those different things. People loved that. The fact is, he had his own employment, his own gainful experience, and friends who followed afterwards, which is important.
When we look at Bill C-11, we have Canada joining with nations, many that have not valued persons with disabilities previous to this particular effort and maybe in a holistic way. When we measure Canada's results on this issue, it is not very good, given the fact that we have been active and have had not-for-profit organizations opened in Canada for decades. We are still fighting the good fight, and we still do not have that type of support system in place. Therefore, hopefully the bill will push many other organizations and countries to make sure that we have it.
I have some statistics on poverty for persons with disabilities, because I want to show the increase in poverty for persons with different types of disabilities. There is the aging and poverty rate at 15% of Canadians, mobility at 15.2%. There is the “any disability” area, which is around 14.4%; and seeing poverty, compared to that, is 17.1%. Therefore, we have a heightened challenge there.
Some of the things we have done have been piecemeal across the country. My good friend and former councillor, Ron Jones, who was previously a district fire chief, became a city councillor when I became a member of Parliament. One of his last gestures on council was to make the west end of the city, basically the area I represented, accessible for street corners and cuts. It included new technology for visual disabilities and others, to make it more accommodating than in the past. This was just a few years ago. It is something that should have been done years previous, but it just was not. We do not have any centralized approach for these things.
I cannot believe some of the mistakes. I am a hockey coach and a hockey dad to my daughter and son, and I cannot count how many arenas I have been to that are inaccessible for all types of disabilities, including the hockey players' bags. I just cannot believe the way some of the arenas are built, with no regard for persons with disabilities or an aging population that wants to watch their grandsons and granddaughters play hockey. I just cannot believe some of the barriers in places built with money that has come from federal grants.
When I was on city council I served on the disability committee for a number of years. There was a group of individuals who had different types of challenges and disabilities. My good friend Dean LaBute, was among them. He was very active in the CNIB for a number of years, for decades, actually. They would audit proposed municipal projects based on the disability format. The projects had to pass, whether it was a fountain area, like the memorial fountain built in honour of the late member of city council and mayor, Bert Weeks, who was involved with work on the waterfront. A waterfront clock was placed there. The committee audited that.
There were still some challenges afterward, but at least we took care of some of them. The projects had to be audited that way. Why do federal infrastructure grants and programs not have to be audited for disability accommodation as well? It is very important. If government money, grants, and support are going to be provided, why are projects not being looked at through some type of disability lens?
The fact of the matter is that despite the issues that pose challenges to persons with disabilities, including visual disabilities, they make contributions to society and they are taxpayers. Their money is quite literally going to projects that are inaccessible to them. It makes no sense whatsoever and it is a real concern. How fair is it that? They get up and go to work in challenging environments. There are less constraints in the private sector.
Try being a person with a disability, who is underemployed right now because the jobs don't match the person's skills, and having to raise the inaccessibility issue at work. Think about the challenge of having to do that as a worker. How many workers do I know today who are scared to question the practices of their employer under health and safety acts because they are fearful of losing their jobs or being blackballed? That happens every single day.
We just had May Day for injured workers. How many went through that process at work, where it was not safe, and they did not return to their sons and daughters at home one night because the workplace was not safe? Think about that for persons with disabilities, who are fearful about raising inaccessibility at the workplace. They pay their taxes. Government projects are put in place by federal, provincial or municipal governments, and accessibility is not built into the process. It is supposed to be. It is supposed to meet municipal codes. I have been there and done that, but it does not go through the necessary auditing processes.
There are a number of issues regarding persons with disabilities that are clearly important and need to be addressed. The New Democrats have called on the Conservatives and Liberals to move on this file and we appreciate most of the co-operation we have had, but unfortunately, there was none on splitting my time.
As a result, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to move the following motion: That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-11, an act to amend the Copyright Act (access to copyrighted works or other subject matter for persons with perceptual disabilities), be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to the committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed.