The Provincial Government has made a commitment to inclusion of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of society. This commitment was strengthened in 2011 with the promise to implement a strategy for the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
The 2012 Speech from the Throne further affirmed the Provincial Government’s commitment to the inclusion of persons with disabilities by moving forward with a provincial strategy. To realize this goal, a multiyear, comprehensive and integrated approach is required. It is important to make sure that as barriers are removed new ones are not created. This requires the collaboration and dedication of all departments and agencies across the Provincial Government, as well as the continued engagement of people with disabilities, communities and businesses.
A high level of Provincial Government leadership is necessary. To lead and oversee the realization of this commitment, the Provincial Government established a Ministers’ Committee for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. The members include:
The Provincial Government also designated a Minister Responsible for the Status of Persons with Disabilities, established a Disability Policy Office and appointed a Provincial Advisory Council for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister Responsible and each of these groups have a distinct and important role to play in the realization of inclusion.
The Disability Policy Office (DPO) is a central point within the Provincial Government that helps all departments and agencies to identify, remove and prevent barriers. The office partners with people with disabilities and community agencies to find solutions that address barriers. It assists Provincial Government departments in applying a disability perspective to make sure policies, programs and services are inclusive. It also increases knowledge throughout the Provincial Government of disability-related issues and experiences.
The Provincial Advisory Council for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities advises the Minister Responsible for the Status of Persons with Disabilities on matters of importance to people with disabilities, including all aspects of the strategy.
The Ministers’ Committee will guide the work of the strategy, supported by a Deputy Ministers’ committee and an interdepartmental working group. This will be done in consultation with the Provincial Advisory Council for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities.
Implementation of the strategy will be coordinated and integrated throughout all departments and agencies, as well as with other strategies that are particularly relevant to persons with disabilities. These include: strategies and initiatives that address long-term care, poverty reduction, inclusive education, recreation and sport and housing.
By working closely with the Women’s Policy Office, Rural Secretariat and the Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat, the unique perspectives of Aboriginal people, women and people living in rural communities and Labrador will be incorporated into initiatives and actions arising from the strategy.
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is committed to taking action in accordance with this strategy and to providing leadership for the broader community towards the shared vision of an inclusive province.
Everyone benefits when we increase accessibility and inclusion. The impact of barrier-free environments, inclusive systems and positive attitudes filter throughout all aspects of society. Significant benefits are experienced both socially and economically.
From a social perspective, communities that include everyone are more successful as they draw on the combined assets of their citizens. They are stronger and more connected. Inclusion positively affects creativity and volunteerism within a community and provides increased diversity of opinions. In addition, increased accessibility enhances quality of life for everyone.
For example, features of Universal Design include the use of lever handles instead of knobs, lowered light switches and wider entrances. These are things that can benefit all people under varied circumstances.
Documents provided in clear language are easier for everyone to read and accessible websites are easier to navigate. Universal Design in Learning supports flexible learning environments and accessible curriculum for all students. Ramps and curb-cuts are helpful for people pushing strollers and pulling suitcases and automatic door openers are helpful to all. These accessible solutions benefit families, businesses and communities and increase the quality of life in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The benefits of inclusion also extend to policies and government participation. People with disabilities offer a wide variety of perspectives in decision-making and planning opportunities; this can only be achieved when barriers to participation are removed and people with disabilities are included on an equal basis with others.
Looking at inclusion from an economic viewpoint, having more people employed means a stronger economy. Breaking down employment barriers for persons with disabilities is a logical and important step to ensuring the province has an adequate labour pool to meet future needs. Changing attitudes and removing myths about accessibility will result in positive outcomes for everyone.
Data shows that many persons with disabilities are skilled and eager to work, yet many are unemployed. Throughout the rest of the country, 51.3 per cent of people with disabilities are employed. Yet, only 31 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with disabilities are working. Contrary to popular belief, workplace accommodations for people with disabilities are not a financial obstacle for employers. Studies indicate that more than half of workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities cost less than $500 and often cost nothing at all. As the province enters periods of unprecedented growth, people with disabilities are ideally positioned to respond to increased labour market opportunities.
The Royal Bank of Canada estimates that the national purchasing power of people with disabilities is $25 billion a year. As accessibility is increased and as more people enter the work force, businesses will have more customers and clients. Increased employment also means more tax revenue and less dependency on social programs and services. As demonstrated in other jurisdictions, accessibility can contribute to the economy through growth in tourism as people seek accessible locations for travel.
Social and economic benefits of inclusion are far-reaching. It is important for everyone to understand and appreciate these impacts, as inclusion is essential to the continued prosperity of our province.