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Canada still has a way to go in ending barriers for disabled people: advocates

01/27/2012 03:50 EST | Updated 03/28/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Advocates say Canadians and their governments must take action to tear down barriers that hurt people with disabilities.

The plea came Friday with the Toronto launch of a report by the World Health Organization and World Bank.

The World Report on Disability suggests that more than one billion people in the world today experience disability and their barriers are many.

Tom Shakespeare of the WHO — one of the report's authors — says that number represents about 15 per cent of the population and is growing due to aging, chronic disease and injuries.

But he says despite steps taken in Canada to improve accessibility, there is still much work to be done.

He points out that in Canada — as in many high-income countries — disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed and face many other barriers that leave them feeling excluded.

Still, most people are touched in some way by disability, or will be, despite the fact that they don't consider themselves disabled, Shakespeare pointed out.

"Remember that half of all people over 60 are disabled," he said, adding, "the longer you live, the more likely you are to be impaired."

The report — which was released internationally last year — provides the first global estimates in 40 years of people with disabilities.

It suggests those with disabilities have generally poorer health and education and higher rates of poverty than those without.

David Lepofsky, chairman of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said accessibility takes planning.

"We need to tear down the barriers we face," said Lepofsky, adding that strong legislation, standards and enforcement are needed.

"No new barriers should ever be created in this province, in this country, indeed, in this world again," he said. "Let's at least stop making things worse."

"We have no excuses. We are one of the richest countries in the world. We have access to some of the best technology in the world. We have some of the finest universities in the world," Lepofsky said.

"There is no reason why we shouldn't be way further down the road towards full accessibility."

The report concludes action is needed from governments, agencies and organizations, service providers, schools, the private sector, communities and people with disabilities themselves and their families.

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