By Raymond Burr, with the help of Victor Schwartzman
Although I passed away in 1993, we all live forever on the internet. Recently I was contacted by the political parties in the current Canadian federal election. They contacted me because I was a Canadian, an actor, and had acted the part of a person with a disability. They therefore thought I would be the best person to ask about a Canadians with Disabilities Act.
Their questions included whether as an actor I had to have a disability or was it enough to act the part of someone with a disability? Why there should be legislation supporting actors with disabilities when they are acting? Did the proposed legislation support the actors or did it support the fictional characters they portrayed? Also, each party was concerned about definitions. For example, would the acting involve film and television only, or include stage productions?
Their questions gave me pause. Indigestion followed the pause.
I played a character who had a disability, Ironside. That was acting, but I personally encountered discrimination in Hollywood because of my weight. For example, I did not land Perry Mason until I lost a lot of pounds. That was the only difference between my first and second auditions. An Americans with Disabilities Act back then, similar to the proposed Canadians with Disabilities Act, would have helped begin to change attitudes.
If politicians are uninformed, they believe voters are not interested. Politicians–and actual people–clearly need more information. I contacted Victor so through him I could explain what a Canadians with Disabilities Act could be, as I explained it to the politicians. Anyone interested in this proposed legislation should go to http://barrierfreecanada.org/home. Then they could watch me in Rear Window, menacing a man in a wheelchair!
First, I informed the politicians the truth about what many of you thought were only bad puns. Then I told them this would be a federal law for people in Canada who have a disability. There are about four million such people. This law, unlike previous legislation, would finally have teeth. It’s like defending a case against D.A. Hamilton Burgerthe outcome is obvious!
Why a new law? The federal government and each Province has had their own human rights laws for over half a century, yet the same access problems continue. Individual human rights complaints usually solve only individual problems. As a result, there is a building movement for each Province to have a universal access law.
While a universal access law is a good idea and should be implemented, currently in Ontario it is at the mercy of politicians’ whims. The political difficulties in implementing such laws on a Provincial level may be insurmountable.
That leaves the proposed Disabilities Act. It would cover all of the problem areas but would be federal legislation. It would have teeth. Fines could be applied quickly. It would have mechanisms to encourage systemic change. In the United States, such legislation has been a success for over two decades. What access problems would a Canadians with Disabilities Act address?
The physical issues most of us are generally aware of. If you are mobility impaired, getting off your block is a problem if there are no curb dips in the sidewalk. Crossing the street is a problem is you are sight impaired and there is no appropriate crosswalk. Getting over stairs at buildings, knowing where the elevator or bus stops at these are all examples of physical problems where the world often feels like a highway where your lane is filled with obstacles while next to you is the fast lane where other people continually pass you.
Employment issues are also generally known. Getting a meaningful interview is difficult, much less the job. Unemployment rates among people who have a disability are five times the overall rate. In truth, most people know about these issues but are not motivated to improve them. Which leads us to attitudes. If attitudes about improving access could be improved, then the first two problems would begin to be resolved. A federal disabilities act would have mechanisms to help improve attitudes to prevent future access problems. And that was important enough for me to come back from the dead to tell you.
Next: Nothing This Week On The Election Issues Because Despite There Being Health Platforms There Was Nothing About Access!
Victor Schwartzman has contributed this weekly satirical column to Accessibility News and the AODA Alliance since May 13, 2013. Check out the first nine chapters of his current satirical fantasy novel, King Of The Planet, for .99 on Kindle at http://www.amazon.ca/King-The-Planet-Victor-Schwartzman-ebook/dp/B00NE0CCRC, or for free on Facebook. The unpolished first nine chapters got a “4 out of 5 star” review! He is currently polishing the novel. His graphic novel The Winnipeg Weakly Herald (where each chapter is one issue of a community newspaper) is serialized on the great lit site, http://www.redfez.net. He has poetry and short fiction published, and has edited novels. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.