In British Columbia, an estimated 50,000 children and youth have special needs and require services and supports to thrive alongside their peers. Dec. 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, is an opportunity to reflect on whether they are safe and secure at school and in our communities, and if we must do more in our province to see their rights upheld.
It is also a chance to celebrate the diverse abilities of our families, our friends and ourselves that are woven together to create the fabric of our communities and to recognize self-advocates everywhere – your efforts, successes and tireless work in support of your rights and the rights of others.
These rights are enshrined internationally in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, nationally in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and within British Columbia’s Human Rights Code.
Laws and agreements, however, do not ensure equality and non-discrimination – they merely give us the framework for living these values. The unfortunate reality is that many British Columbians are prevented from exercising these rights and freedoms.
Since Sept. 30 of this year, my role has expanded to include advocating for certain B.C. youth and young adults with disabilities. The transition to adulthood, a challenging time on its own, can be an unrelenting struggle for young people whose basic human rights and freedoms are not always being respected. The supports and services to which they are entitled should not, and must not, come at the cost of human dignity, nor should they prevent anyone from meeting their full potential and sharing their unique gifts with society.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
B.C. Representative for Children and Youth