International Day of Persons with Disabilities

By: The Hon. Jim Munson

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Cityscape of Vancouver, British Columbia

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, as Senator Petitclerc has just mentioned, today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As we have done every year on December 3 since it was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1992, we promote the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities and act for their inclusion in all parts of society and development.

Since that time, there have been many steps in the right direction. Many achievements and accomplishments have been made by the world’s more than 1 billion people living with a disability. They are breaking barriers.

One of those individuals is Chris Nikic from Florida, the first competitor with Down’s syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon. Chris finished the 2.4-mile open-water swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in just under the 17-hour limit.

Like most people living with a disability, others often see Chris’s limits and not his potential. But this race wasn’t for other people. The 21-year-old was completing this triathlon to prove to himself that he can achieve anything, that his dreams can come true. “I learned that there are no limits,” he said after the competition. “Do not put a lid on me.” His mantra: One step forward, two steps forward, three steps forward.

I’ve always said that every step forward is a good step, and Mr. Nikic has shown us this in action throughout every step of his race. Do not underestimate anyone, for any reason.

Canada took a big step forward on its obligations to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by passing the Accessible Canada Act last year. I was proud to be the sponsor of the act in the Senate — and proud, of course, that we passed it in a unanimous fashion.

Since then, we have seen American Sign Language, ASL, available in the Senate Chamber and at our committees. ASL interpretation is now a regular occurrence at press conferences and news reports across the country and around the world, which is imperative for the Deaf community, especially during a worldwide pandemic. More steps in the right direction.

As you know, colleagues, not all disabilities are visible. Many disabilities, like hearing or sight impairments, as well as brain injuries, autism, mental health and chronic pain, can be invisible. The intersectional barriers faced by persons with disabilities are amplified as they deal with the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic every day. Negative impacts on mental well-being from isolation, diminishing access to services and disrupted routines are on the rise. Just because we have an accessibility act now, it doesn’t mean we can stop advocating and raising awareness of disabilities.

I see my time is running out, honourable senators, but I have to get in this word from my trusty assistant, Michael Trink, who has Down’s syndrome. He has been with me for 10 years. Michael is an optimistic and hard-working soul, and he wanted me to share with you his words during this pandemic: Stay positive and keep moving forward.

I think that’s advice we can all use. Thank you very much.

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