At the very heart of the labour movement and, definitely, at the heart of CUPE Ontario, are the concepts of access and empowerment. Every member must have access to the political structures within their workplaces, their union, and their governments. As a union, we work to open doors for working people and to provide the skills and support needed to go through those doors and into leadership roles.

On December 3, we observe the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year, the United Nations has declared the theme of “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment.”

At the CUPE Ontario Convention in May, members made a historic decision to expand the diversity of voices on our executive board. This includes adding a guaranteed seat at the table for workers with disabilities – a representative who will be elected for the first time at our Convention this coming spring.

Throughout our union, though, we must continue to improve inclusion for workers with disabilities, not only by making our events accessible, but also by encouraging workers with disabilities are selected to participate in conventions and conferences. Workers with visible and invisible disabilities face barriers to employment and to advancement in the workplace, making it difficult for many to also participate fully in their union. We must make certain their voices are heard and take extra steps to ensure the doors to full participation are open.

While we are making important changes in our union, our province is not changing quickly enough. The Ontario government passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005. But, the provincial Liberals have not made enforcement of the law a priority. In fact, before public outcry forced them to reverse their decision, the Liberals cut enforcement, and delayed implementation for many workplaces.

Together, with the CUPE Ontario Workers with Disabilities Committee, we must remain vigilant, and continue to press the province into moving accessibility rights forward. This year, we also join the committee and the AODA Alliance in calling on the newly elected federal government to bring in an act to make all of Canada accessible to all Canadians.
Our country, our communities, our workplaces and our union, are at their best when we can all participate and have equal voices.

Until we have full accessibility, we are leaving too many of those voices behind.