FTAA and the disability community:
Democracy needs a ramp
by Maria Barile
Montreal, Quebec, April 28, 2001-- As I sat watching the Summit of the Americas and the people's Summit unfold, I kept wondering why we as a group were again the only social group not present. I was also angry. My last-minute efforts to get there were futile. The groups that were offering rides on their group buses had no lifts on them.
The FTAA agreements include not only trades of goods but also services -- and now democracy.
I do not know what the notion of democracy will entail, but the idea -- just the idea of free elections -- is important.
How will people with disabilities vote in Haiti, if voting cards are on paper only, if the voting locales are in offices with stairs and no ramps? Even in Canada, in some places, voting spaces are still not accessible.
What about the fact that in the U.S. during the November election, political parties still offered their party platforms on paper only? That most TV political commercials were not captioned, that Internet ads were not alt-tagged ?
Why is democracy not ramped and available on tape, Braille or disc? Why are there no sign language interpreters in the democracy of the Americas? Why are we excluded from this very central democratic process?
If I were cynical, I would say it's because they expect that eventually we as a group, disabled people, will be a thing of the past. But I'll be nice and say simply that presidents and prime ministers, and their staffs, are absent-minded: they "forgot" us.
What about us? Can we afford to be forgotten? Can we afford to allow our brothers and sisters in less wealthy counties to be excluded? Most of all can, we trust those who continuously forget us to remember us in the next new economy and civil society?
I'm not sure if "free trade" is good or bad for us. But we need to investigate, to ask questions, to find out.
Maria Barile lives in Montreal.