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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Conservative Canadian MPs Royally Screw Up with Fake Braille

The flyer above was distributed by Conservative Canadian MPs and the mailing has turned into a disaster. All major Canadian news outlets are reporting the flyer is one of the biggest blunders in political mail-out history. Conservative MPs, like our conservatives in the USA, express great concern about people with a disability. Think cheesy devoid of reality statements made by Rick  Santorum about disability and put a Canadian spin on it. The flyers are supposed to tout programs that help people with a disability enter the work force. The inclusion of braille imagery is an epic fail. Braille as many people know needs to be elevated so people with profound visual impairments can gently slide their fingers over paper embossed with a system of raised dots. I am not familiar with the preferences of blind people in terms of accessing reading material. I do know that most people I know who happen to be blind strike me as technology geeks. They always have the latest and best software on their computers. I suspect braille while still used might be nearing the end of its useful life. 

Jim Tokos, vice president of the Canadian Council on the Blind in the Ottawa Citizen stated Conservative support for people with a disability was "lacklustre". Some people who are blind are shocked that such a well funded and powerful party could make such a basic error.  In the twitter universe the conservatives are taking a beating. The slogan "Supporting jobs for all Canadians" is indeed laughable as is the statement on the flyer that maintains Our government has been determined to help remove barriers for those who are excluded from the workforce,” the flyer states. “Our long-term prosperity depends on an inclusive workforce that utilizes the skills of all citizens.” The conservative Harper administration like our Republican Party oozes sympathy and understanding about all things disability related. Yet conservatives consistently slash social supports for people with a disability thereby undermining their ability to work. Santorum, despite his professed support for people like his disabled daughter Bella, was instrumental in undermining the passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The purpose of the "Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity." Not exactly controversial. In fact the word innocuous springs to mind. I found Santorum's reasons for opposing the UN Charter devoid of reality and bordering on bizarre. He characterized the Treaty as "Pandora's box" that would empower unnamed United Nations bureaucrats to make medical decisions for people like his daughter. The UN Treaty would also somehow make it impossible for children in the US to be home schooled. 

Back to Canada; the only thing more entertaining than seeing Conservative MPs embarrassed is their effort to explain how they screwed up. Manitoba Conservative MP, Shelly Glover's office in response to critics, stated the braille text on the flyer was meant to be a visual representation alone. The office added "Like other graphics on that mailer, it signifies a group of Canadians  who may face challenges in obtaining employment".  I get it now--the Conservative MPs wanted to reach out to people who are blind with a visual representation concerning why they are unemployed. Yes, that makes sense.

In my experience over the last year or so in Ontario, I would venture to guess culturally Canadians are more accepting of people with a disability. To date, I have not experienced the sort of in your face discrimination that exists in New York. I am not suggesting all is rosy north of the border and I hasten to add my experiences are too limited to form an informed opinion. One thing i do know is that  Canadians with disabilities have the lowest average income of any minority group. Canada lacks the comprehensive civil rights legislation exemplified by the Americans with Disability Act. Every year a Minister responsible for People with Disability Issues reads a report. I have read a few of these. They are long on rhetoric and short on any direct action. Two positives can be identified with regard to the conservative Harper administration. First, they ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Second, they oppose assisted suicide legislation currently working its way through the court. While these are without question positive moves they are largely symbolic. I am not at all sure the Harper administration is truly dedicated to the rights of people with a disability or really sincerely opposed to assisted suicide legislation. What has done by conservatives to date is easy. The real nitty gritty work of creating a fully inclusive society has a long way to go. The distributed flyer sent out by Conservative MPs is not an innocent mistake that can be easily dismissed. To me, it highlights exactly how unaware conservatives are to the civil rights of Canadian citizens. According to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians four out of five working age blind people do not have the opportunity to work. The lack of vision is not the reason blind Canadians are unemployed but rather a combination  of factors such a charity and medical model of disability, a history of exclusion, inadequate job training, lack of education etc. None if this is news to conservative Canadians. Exactly how many reports about how marginalized blind people are need to be conducted? I for one would like to see action in not onyl Canada but in the US as well. 

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