Queen’s Park – Canadians don’t readily affix the title of Hero to our citizens as some societies do. Instead, as is our nature, we reserve such unofficial but meaningful honors for those who truly deserve such recognition. In 1985 Rick Hansen embarked on a remarkable 40,000 km, four continent trek in his wheelchair. Hansen suffered serve spinal cord damage as a result of a pickup truck accident at just 15 years of age.
As a result of his efforts, Hansen successfully garnered incredible attention to the cause of tearing down barriers for people with disabilities of every description. One of the results of this initiative in 1988 was the creation of National Access Awareness Week (NAAW). The aim of NAAW is to elicit public awareness and support to encourage all aspects of our society to bring about meaningful changes to improve the daily living of people with disabilities.
“In general, Canadians have earned a reputation as an inclusive and caring nation of people,” said Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha. “For too long in the past, people with disabilities were just not on the radar. Not only were people with disabilities disproportionately unemployed and under-employed, but they had to face an endless list of obstacles as they tried to go about their daily lives.”
As a result of increasing awareness of the challenges facing people with disabilities, Ontarians are coming together to ensure our society takes a wider view of every aspect of our lives. “Government officials, employers, the labour movement, service providers and many others are increasingly coming together to look for opportunities to eliminate and reduce the barriers facing people with disabilities,” said Mantha. “We are moving forward.”
A report from the United Way states that, “Employers who hire people with disabilities report happier, more productive workplaces overall. Further, 90% of people with disabilities rated average or better on job performance overall and staff retention amongst employees with disabilities is 72% higher than their co-workers without disabilities.”
Mantha says that NAAW is about helping us to remember that everyone in our communities needs to feel welcome and that they belong – even activities that we all take for granted such as enjoying a public park, going down a city sidewalk, riding in an elevator, dining in a restaurant or taking in a movie in a theatre.
“We need to remind ourselves that people with disabilities are not a segment of our society. They are part of our society.” Mantha went on to say that people with disabilities contribute almost $25 billion annually to the Canadian economy by purchasing goods and services.
“I have always maintained that Algoma-Manitoulin’s greatest resource is its people – all people. As MPP, I am committed to continuing the forward momentum toward accessibility for everyone.”