MARK: Hey there - it’s Mark Coffin here, and I’ll be your host for this weeks podcast, where we’ll be exploring some of the stories of the people who have run, and in some cases won, elected office as Nova Scotians living with disabilities.
Alright, here’s this week’s episode.
(Piano music begins)
MARK: If you haven’t seen the pictures from Kevin Murphy’s first days as speaker of the house, you should take a moment to check them out. There are three pictures, Kevin is in two of them, and each stands is a contrast to the archetypal image those who spend time around Province House would be very familiar with.
I’ll tell you how to find them shortly, but for now, let me tell you about the first picture.
It takes place outside of the chamber, and it’s a picture of a media scrum.
When you walk into the foyer during a busy day at province house you’ll often see a media scrum. There are a dozen or more of reporters, and their hands extended pushing microphones into the faces of whomever has convinced them they have something to say that is worth reporting on.
It usually happens at eye level, or close to it. Reporters on one side, and their interview subject is on the other.
Most of us at home see only a fraction of the scrum - usually from the angle of one of the cameras.
But this picture shows the other side, and it appears to be taken from close to the ground.
What you can’t see is the face of Kevin Murphy - the subject of the scrum. What you can see is the faces of at least seven journalists from the press gallery beaming, with ear-to-ear smiles.
These people are generally not known for showing their pearly whites.
But, It was a big moment. Kevin Murphy - a rookie liberal MLA, from the eastern shore of Nova Scotia - had just been elected the speaker of the House of Assembly, and at that moment he was the first and only speaker in the British Commonwealth that would serve from a wheelchair.
Kevin Murphy is a paraplegic.
The reporter’s smiling faces frame Kevin’s silhouette. Kevin - seated in his wheelchair, wearing a suit and top-hat, staring up at his first media scrum. Probably the first, and perhaps only time a newly elected politician in Nova Scotia was met with such a warm welcome from the press corps.
KEVIN: I was injured at age 14 playing hockey. I was just a regular kid from a regular family.
I went from being an athlete who dreamt of playing hockey for the Montreal Canadiens one day, to somebody who couldn’t even sit up straight or feed myself, and you know you figure things out as you go. You figure things out as you go.
But when I had my accident, of course, you’re dealing with a new reality. The limitations are harsh and their cruel. When you’re first injured, or you acquire through accident or illness, the dramatic change — I mean, and I don’t say that to garner sympathy, but that’s the reality of it.
You know, one day I was flying down the ice, the next day I’m in a hospital bed unable to move.
MARK: The way Kevin tells the rest of his story, if it weren’t for his accident, he wouldn’t have had nearly as much experience practising advocacy. And if it weren’t for practising advocacy for himself and other people, he might not have considered a career in politica at all.
KEVIN: So you quickly learn to advocate for yourself. Obviously your needs are different and you figure out how to get the things you need.
I’ve always been an advocate for persons with disabilities, I mean that just stems from the old cliche, necessity is the mother of invention…
Some things are available and others aren’t. The process of learning how to speak up and identify that “gee, the things that are not in place that would potentially benefit me, would benefit a lot of other people as well.”
So in learning how to advocate - I was injured in Grade 9 - so it basically started with trying to figure out how I was going to go back to school in Grade 10 in a building that was 50-odd years old that had steps everywhere.
That was a learning experience for me and my family, from a small town in Nova Scotia.
To skip ahead a few years, I went from my local high school to Saint Mary’s and again, had my eyes opened up.
Moving from rural Nova Scotia to the big city of Halifax, and I thought “gosh, there’s all kind of people with all kinds of different disabilities in and around the city of Halifax. And the things that I need like the door-opener to get from one building to another at Saint Mary’s, or a walkway that wasn’t paved that I couldn’t navigate with my wheelchair, once I spoke up and asked for those, those changes were put in place. I quickly saw that lots of other people were benefiting from that.
So that kind of lead me down the road of - i guess at some point in the future - looking at politics as an option.
One of the things that was a strong consideration for me, going back to my decision to put my name on the ballot for provincial MLA was the desire to take my own experience as a person with a disability over the last 32 years and translate what I learned in the baby steps of success that I’ve achieved to benefit not only myself but other people with disabilities and advocacy work… and bring that view and perspective to government.
But you know, there’s probably many jurisdications throuhgout the world where a person with a disability for all kinds of reasons for all kinds of reasons external to their own choosing would not be able to put their name on a ballot.
Ironically, just before I was elected, myself and a group of other persons with disabilities founded the James MacGreggor Stewards Society and one of our first projects we took on - probably about five years ago - we started writing letters to the government of the day pointing out that MLAs constituency offices by virtue of the house of assembly management commission regulations were exempt from the NS building code which would’ve required them to be barrier-free like every other building that was newly built - all kinds of loopholes, and quite an extensive story.
MARK: Kevin, pointed out that he could not visit his own MLA’s office, on the eastern shore, because there was a staircase at the front door.
KEVIN: And nothing personal against the MLA of the day, he was very friendly and accomodating, and said “ill meet you at a coffee shop, I’ll come to your home, whatever…” but the point is, that as a person with a disability, that I could not visit my own elected representative’s office, that I pay for with my tax dollars, but you begin to see the flaw.
It took us two years of letter writing to get this on the radar, again of the government of the day, and it was my predecessor Gordie Gosse - who speakers are responsible for all aspects of MLAs operations, including the constituencies offices and the rules and policies that MLAs live by, and we got Gordie’s ear, and he quickly, when he realized this kind of loophole, he swiftly moved to close the loophole, so with a rule change,
… And ironically, there was an election in the meantime, and I had decided to put my name on the ballot, and lo and behold I was the next speaker who was tasked with actually carrying out that rule change…
MARK: Kevin doesn’t try and take credit for the decision.
It really does sound like a relay race like effort, where Kevin and the people he was working with handed the baton of barrier free offices to Gordie while he was speaker in the last government, and Kevin just ended up being in the right place to recieve that baton on the other side, once Kevin became the speaker.
KEVIN: So one small step, but a very significant step in the big picture.
It is kind of ironic in how it all played out that I was on one side of the fence when we started the advocacy effort, and I was on the other side of the fence when it actually came to fruition.
KEVIN: it’s very humbling to look back at the history and understand the role of Speaker.
(Quiet, Dark Droning Sound Begins)
MARK: This brings us to the second picture to frame Kevin’s story. In most legislatures and parliaments that are a part of the British commonwealth, there is a tradition that dates back to the very first parliaments - in 1300s Britain. The tradition is that he who is elected speaker, is dragged unwillingly by the Prime Minister and opposition party leaders up to the speaker’s dais. Even today, the tradition carries on, and newly elected speakers feign disinterest in being dragged to the chair.
The reason why - and we’ll come back to Kevin’s story in a moment - is that the first parliaments were fully subservient to the British Crown. And if the monarch wasn’t pleased with the decisions of their parliament… the speaker was beheaded.
In the first 140 years of parliamentary government in Britain, seven speakers were executed.
Since then, we’ve had over 600 years of that kind of government in Britain, and in the 52 commonwealth countries - including Canada - that have adopted their style of government.
It’s the same style of government that places the speaker as the referee for deliberation, debate and decision-making in our province house.
For Kevin Murphy, who is the first person in the 623 year history of parliamentary government to serve from a wheelchair in any of the 52 commonwealth nations, you can understand where he’s coming from when he says
KEVIN: it’s very humbling to look back at the history and to understand the role of Speaker.
Mark: The picture you would usually see run alongside the story of the election of a new speaker is the one where the Premier and opposition leaders pull the new speaker up to the chair.
The picture we saw, didn’t look anything like the traditional photo-op. Stephen McNeil, Jamie Baillie, and Maureen MacDonald all have one hand on Kevin’s wheelchair. Now, it’s Kevin Murphy who is all smiles, as he’s pushed towards the speaker’s dais, a podium that, at the time of his election as speaker, was still inaccessible to him by wheelchair.
KEVIN: Being speaker is a big commitment, it’s a tremendous honour and privilege. When you look at our own jurisdiction of Nova Scotia, one of the oldest freely elected governments in the world, despite being a small province with a relatively small population, we have had literally millions of people in our province since people have lived here. And when you start to peel back the layers, only a few hundred have been elected as MLAs, and only - I should know the number exactly - but maybe 100, I don’t think it’s even 100 people, have had the privilege of being Speaker of the House of Assembly in Nova Scotia. So from that regard
Although I’m the first Speaker with a physical disability, not only in Nova Scotia but in the commonwealth.
We have had MLAs previous to me who have had mobility issues.
There was an elevator installed in the building in 1978, more recently I think in the late 90s the public washrooms were renovated.
You know, there’s still parts of the building I am my wheelchair can’t access … the basement, the bottom floor, where there are some offices and storage areas, but all of the working spots in the building, I can access.
Probably the most significant change since I was elected Speaker in 2013, is the addition of the ramp in the chamber itself, in the legislative chamber, to make the Speakers daeus accessible. So, we were the first assembly in Canada to make a Speaker’s daeus barrier-free, or wheelchair accessible.
MARK: This brings us to the third picture… there’s no story to go along with this one…
Who doesn’t like a before/after shot. We’ve posted all three pictures up on the Springtide twitter feed you can check it out @SpringtideCo.
Kevin doesn’t think that changes like this one are - in and of themselves - going to encourage more people with disabilities.
When he put his name forward to be speaker, he was of the mindset that if he were elected to the job, accommodations would be made so that he could access the places he needed to access.
But to get elected, and to be successful in political life as a person with a disability, there are many barriers that you would encounter before you even reach province house.
KEVIN: Politics is not for everybody, just like being a fireman is not for everybody. My effort is not to suggest that because you’re a person with a disability you’re qualified to be an elected representative.
But, if you are a person with a disability, who happens to have the qualifications, the stamina, skills and ability, to bring something to the role of elected representative, then I think there should be nothing that should stand in your way, whether it’s some kind of physical, built environment barrier, or an attitudinal barrier, or anything like that.
MARK: Kevin, and the two next two people you’ll hear from, really emphasized the share of the population who have physical disabilities. Globally, it’s about 15% of people live with physcal disabilities. In Nova Scotia it’s somewhere between 18 - 20 %.
KEVIN: a very significant portion of our population are persons, for various reasons, have some kind of physical limitation. So, the spin I like to put on it is this: for conversation purposes let’s assume it’s 20% of our population, so, 20% of a million is 200,000 people.
When you begin to think about that in terms of political power (i.e. votes), when you think about that in terms of consumer power (i.e. money people are spending), and when you consider that … as I mentioned I’m a full time mobility impaired person, so I am one of those roughly 200,000 Nova Scotians who has a physical limitation.
Where it get’s really interesting is I’m married, and I have two children. Where I go, so do they. Where I can’t go, neither do they. When you think about that through a consumer lens, if I can’t get into your store or your restaurant with my wheelchair, you’re not only losing one customer. You’re losing 3 more. So 4 people.
So again, going back to our simple math - a million people in Nova Scotia, 20%, it doesn’t take long to figure out that policies, programs and services that affect persons with physical limitations affect not only those people directly involved, statistically, but they involve all Nova Scotians.There is a huge impact.
So when we circle back to people holding elected office: the goal of any good democratic system is to get a truly … representative government of the people of which it’s intended to serve.
That holds true for race, gender, for persons with disabilities, you name it.
MARK: That’s Kevin Murphy, the liberal MLA for the Eastern Shore riding, and speaker of the 62nd House of Assembly. And the tape you just heard was from an interview he did with my co-host, Sandra Hannebohm in the summer of 2016.
Kevin is currently running for re-election in the riding of eastern shore. This will be his second election campaign. His first campaign was in the fall 2013 election.
Last week, Sandra spoke with Steven Estey, who also ran in the 2013 election.
Here’s Sandra and Steve getting to know one another.
STEVE: Tell me about yourself, you were working for Springtide a while ago, and then you’re not, and now you’re back.
SANDRA: Yeah, I had an internship and then that ended.
STEVE: Right yeah, where’d you go to school?
SANDRA: Saint Mary’s!
STEVE: Oh yeah, what’d you do?
SANDRA: Political science, and french?
STEVE: oh really, are you francophone?
STEVE: I would tell people I can be deaf in both official languages.
STEVE: it’s a great skill really. I went to school at SMU, I did my MA in development studies there.
SANDRA: Did you go with kevin Murphy?
STEVE: Kevin and I were at school at the same time,
SANDRA: Oh, crazy!
STEVE: I’ve known him since then, I mean after the election, and after things settled down and stuff, I went to Kevin to talk about trying to organize something…
MARK: That’s Steven Estey,who ran for the NDP, but as you heard, has been friends with Kevin Murphy for longer than either of them have been a part of the parties they now belong to.
After the 2013 election, Kevin and Steve worked together to organize a conference called Forum 29, which was an event aimed at getting persons with disabilities involved in politics in Nova Scotia.
The name of the event - forum 29 - was inspired by article 29 of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities - an international human rights treaty that Steven Estey was involved in the development of. The treaty was signed in 2007, and article 29 states that member countries should…
“Ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives”
STEVE: So, I ran in the last provincial election in 2013 but I didn’t win. So I’m not an ex-MLA, I’m an ex-wannabe. but it was a very interesting experience.
I was approached by members of the party to consider seeking the nomination, and I was resistant to that. Prior to getting involved in the 2013 campaign [is that] I had worked as an activist for 20 years in disability rights and a key part of that work has always been to present myself in a non-partisan sort of way. My agenda was in human rights, focusing on a certain group of folks. Didn’t matter if the government was Tory or Liberal or NDP.
I work as a consultant in the area of international disability rights. So I work with organizations of people with disabilities here in Nova Scotia, in Canada, and around the world. Primary with regard to the implementation of the UN convention on the rights of people with disability. I’ve done that for the last 15 years.
About 15 years ago, I started working at the UN when countries around the world gathered to begin to consider drafting a new human rights treaty for people with disabilities… and the General Assembly adopted the treaty in December of 2006. Since then I’ve been working with disabled people's organizations and governments to implement the treaty and to get governments to take up the responsibility that they’re obliged to after having signed and ratified the treaty.
For me, as a deaf person, the experience of door-knocking was a pretty peculiar one I think. Because obviously what you need to do is you need to talk to people. You’re going from door to door in Dartmouth North, where I ran. Try to figure out how I’m gonna manage that, because while you can tell I’m perfectly able to speak, I can’t hear a thing.
And lip reading is a very inexact science. If you’re going and meeting people for the first time and try to have a conversation with them by reading their lips, you wind up misinterpreting what they’re saying.
You can get yourself in a lot of trouble! I didn’t want to get myself in a lot of trouble on hundreds of door steps in Dartmouth North.
[CBC CLIP PLAYS]
STEVE: Hi - my name is Steve Estey, I’m running for the NDP in Dartmouth North, it’s nice to meet you folks, how are you this afternoon?
FOLKS: Just fine, we heard that you had a nomination two days ago…
STEVE: Two looong days ago…
STEVE: I’m deaf and I communicate using my friend here who types on her iphone what you’re saying.
FOLKS: Oh this is excellent.
STEVE: I’ve never seen anyone text as fast in my life…
[CBC CLIP ENDS]
STEVE: I came up with an interesting approach. I was accompanied by a person, usually a younger person, who had an iPhone or some kind of a smart phone. so in the beginning there was a kind of intimidating process for me. But it became pretty easy pretty quickly, I got pretty accustomed to it.
It was probably the first time they had ever come face to face with a guy standing on a doorstep saying “hi my name is Steve and I’m running for the NDP, by the way I’m deaf and my friend Person X beside me is texting what you say”. You wind up having a conversation with those folks, and it was an interesting way to break the ice.
I think a lot of times, when politicians knock on people’s doors the people on the other side go “oh no you’re somebody else and I don’t want to talk to them”. But for me, my first line of conversation wasn’t about running for politics, it was about the fact that I have a disability and I’m presenting them with this sort of accommodation.
You know in all the doors I knocked on, I can remember only one person who reacted negatively to me, or reacted in a way that they made it clear they were - you know it made it clear that they uncomfortable with what was going on. So one person closed the door in my face. So I think, you know really, that’s not a bad track record!
MARK: One of the barriers that he faced during his campaign was the reality that the way he had to campaign was more expensive than the way other candidates would have campaigned.
STEVE: for most candidates when they’re knocking on doors, they’re doing it themselves and they’ve got a team of volunteers with them, so there’s no cost to the campaign for that.
But for me, every hour I was out there was a cost to the campaign. I wound up having to raise that money, over and above the money that I used for the campaign.
A lot of parties recognize for example that when women run, there may be cost attached to childcare because of the reality of those women’s lives and so on. A lot of parties will set aside a certain amount of funds to offset those kinds of costs, and that’s certainly helpful. That principle, I think, is a useful one in terms of trying to create a level playing field, but it doesn’t recognize the fact that the costs of disability are significantly greater in some cases, than they are for other people who require accommodation.
If you and I are both running for a nomination in Dartmouth North, you’re a person that doesn’t have disability and I’m a person that does. The riding association goes “well Steve’s a great guy, we think he’s lovely, but it’s gonna cost us an extra $7,500 dollars to run him. That’s money we’ve got to raise ourselves”. Then, that becomes a burden on the whole riding association, and it really discourages at a grassroots level, the participation or endorsement of people with disabilities as candidates.
MARK: The added financial burden of running as a candidate with a disability was one barrier that Steve faced, but another barrier was simply the idea of being a part of a political party - a path that few people with disabilities had done before him.
STEVE: So I’d never been a member of a political party, and I deliberately stayed away from it. So when the NDP came to me initially, and asked me if I’d be interested in running for the nomination, I said no.
And, I went back and forth for quite a long time around this. Finally, I made a decision to go forward with it. But then I started to think about, you know, the barriers that I’m going to face. And, I think that a lot of people come from so-called equity-seeking communities can look to other members of their community for mentoring, to get advice on how you do this, how if you’re a person of color you overcome some of the obstacles that you might face, how if you’re a woman you overcome some obstacles, but for a person with a disability, there really aren’t many mentors out there.
There aren’t a lot of folks to talk to. So you have to kind of get - so then you’re charting a new path.
A lot of times, in disability rights work, we talk about the fact that people with disabilities are where women were in Canadian society 75 or 100 years ago, you know in terms of political participation and all of these kinds of things. So 75 or 100 years ago, women running for office didn’t have a lot of women to look to to say ‘how did you manage that?’
And that’s where people with disabilities find themselves today. That was a big barrier.
But really the biggest barrier that I face or anyone faces when they run for office is to come to terms with - I mean everybody’s got barriers, everybody has got challenges when they come into this thing.
My barriers and challenges just happen to be a little bit more obvious probably than other people’s, and that’s okay.
SANDRA [Interview Tape}: Were you ever discouraged?
STEVE: [Laughs] Only by my wife!
STEVE: No that’s not true, she was actually very supportive.
No actually, no I think that, everybody that I know - both people that I know personally, and folks, just in the community, and in the party were actually quite supportive of the fact that I was running - obviously not supportive enough at the end of the day!
SANDRA: (laughter) Ummm (typing next question)
STEVE: it was pretty close…
MARK: That was Steve Estey, speaking with Sandra Hannebohm last week about his experience running, and losing, as a candidate for the NDP in the 2013 provincial election. Steve ran in the riding of Dartmouth North.
The last person we spoke with for this week’s show was Jerry Pye. Jerry Pye was the NDP MLA for the the riding of Dartmouth North in the early 2000s.
Jerry lives in Ottawa now, and he spoke with Louise Cockram, the lead researcher for the Off Script project.
Just a heads up that the interview took place in a Tim Hortons, and it’s fairly noisy, but we’ve done our best to clean up the audio from their conversation.
(Tim Hortons noises)
JERRY: In my particular case, I grew up in an era, I had a crippling disability called poliomyelitis. And as a result of that I had disability in my right leg.
And I was able to navigate quite freely through municipal government and provincial government, however I did need - because of the required number of eligible voters in a constituency vs a ward and
There was a need ot recognize that I as a disabled person, woudl need to spend more money.
And I remember a scribe in a local daily news at one time - making comment to the public that I and another individual had spent the most money in an election campaign - with the inferences being implied that I bought my way into government and as a disabled person I didn’t buy my way into government, I needed those resources becuase in order to meet the number of people I had to expend more money than others, but I also had to raise more money than others, and I don’t think the scribe of that newspaper put out the details of the information in such a way…
So, disabled persons have barriers not only in governmnet, but they have barriers in media as well, and media tends to cover them differently, and tends to
People in small communities expect you to see them, expect you to stand on their doorstep and talk to them, and that’s a given because after all, you’re running for public office, and many people may not know who you are, and it’s your responsibility to meet them, and let them see you face to face … there’s nothing more important than engaging with the voter.
Within a constituencies boundaries theres x-number of voters, lets say 16, 17 thousand… as in my particular case representing dartmouth north. It’s impossible for me as a disabled person to reach those individuals in a 30 day campaign..36 … 45 day campaign! You can have your kitchen talk, fireside, community meetings… but that won’t bring out all the people, and it’s a considered fact that you must reach all the eligible voters you possibly can, because if a voter says I ddint’ see them on my doorstep so I’m not voting for them, they didn’t think that I was worthy of coming to see… and therefore there needs to be special considerations recognizign the special considerations that disabled persons have.. .
MARK: Jerry commented that, it was only once a person with a disability was elected to government, that changes to the accessibility of the place they were elected to started to change.
JERRY: I think that you, as a disabled person, if you’re lucky enough to get elected to a provincial federal or municipal legislature or government, it’s only then that they react to your need….
Disabled persons couldn’t even enter the legislature to watch the proceedings of the legislature because there wasn’t space available to them until I became a member of the legislature, for them to come in in their wheelchairs, in the gallery, in the public gallery.
And in the public gallery, they finally allocated spaces for about 10 wheelchairs, that’s about ten people!
MARK: Jerry noted that the party caucus offices are generally quite accessible, as they’re in large office buildings, with elevators that are well managed.
But when it comes to planning political events - which can happen anywhere - an eye for the perspective of people with disabilities is often missing from event design.
JERRY: I guess I would say that some of the barriers at events are not taken into consideration by any political party. They will have an event, and they will have a staging area, and the staging area will not have a ramp or a walking place for persons with disabilities walking and so on, will get up and down those ramps with someone helping you up, and that’s always an embarrassing situation.
Mark: Unless you’re planning, and explicitly thinking about how to make it accessible to people with disabilities, it’s probably not going to be accessible to people with disabilities.
JERRY: You know these kinds of things that happen, you have to be observant to see it, you have to be mindful of it to notice it’s deficiencies and these kind of planning policies.
MARK: As someone who has been critical of the people responsible for keeping many of these barriers and other barriers in place, Jerry has heard, and anticipates the response of the well intentioned - who say they’d like to make things more accessible, but it’s too expensive…
He says those kinds of attitudes are the real barriers to making society accessible to people with disabilities.
JERRY: Well, I think it’s an attitude that ought not be existent in the 21st century. It’s an attitude to justify your own actions, as to why you’re not doing something. It’s an attitude that says look, you know, we recognize that you’re out there, but we can’t do things as fast as you want them to be done, implying that they know how fast that you want them to be done.
You know, it’s those kind of attitudes that are the barriers, it’s that kind of thinking that are the barriers to being constructive when creating avenues for disabled persons to function freely in a society that’s given to the most generous.
MARK: In their conversations with Kevin Murphy, Steve Estey, and Jerry Pye, Sandra and Louise heard similar messages echoed by each of them, when it comes to making politics, and society in general, more accessible to Nova Scotians.
The first - is that we all get something out of making our communities, and politics more accessible, and we’re all responsible for making it so.
KEVIN: The beauty of diversity is that it takes all kinds to make the world go round.
STEVE: I think everyone benefits when everyone can participate inthe community, and more importantly fully contribute to the community.
JERRY: We all have a responsibility as I have said to you earlier, we all have a responsibility - not only I as a disabled person, but everyone who can see me, who is in my image, who recognizes that, has a responsibiltiy to cause governments and agencies and businesses to react, or to act, I should say, not necessarily re-act, but to act in a positive way.
SANDRA: You told me what you do, but what could someone else do, if you’re a new MLA and you want to address those issues, what’s the first thing?
KEVIN: Well I think the very first thing is to make sure that you recognize within your own self, as we hope that every single person who’s upright and doing things in our community and province and country, is that your recognize people as people first.
KEVIN: Not as “oh look there’s a guy in a wheelchair” and “oh, and that’s Kevin”. I want people to be able to recognize that everybody is an individual, everybody has potential, everybody has skills and abilities, and the conversation that we all have limitations, is a secondary thing. It’s really important that people holding elected office, tasked with making decisions about policy and programs recognize that everyone has the ability to make a contribution. We — the collective we — need to figure out how to enable that person to be the best person they can be.
STEVE: For me it’s all about realizing our full potential. Talk about Nova Scotia being a place that has an ageing population, that has all kinds of socio-economic challenges, and that’s true. I don’t deny that, but if you put people with disabilities on the socio-economic challenge side of the scale, then it tips the balance even more.
STEVE: So accessibility is an enabling thing that can help people with disabilities from the negative side of the scale to the positive side of the scale. Let people with disabilities become contributing people in our society, employed in schools, taking a rightful role. That’s really what people with disabilities want. That’s why I ran in the last election, because I’d made my life around the fact that it’s important for people with disabilities to be included in things.
MARK: The second take home - is that in order for our public institutions to be representative of the people those institutions are meant to serve, people with disabilities need to be in positions of political leadership.
STEVE: And one of the things that I realized, a long time ago was the fact that unless you get people with disabilities in positions of political leadership, we’re going to continue to be on the margins of things.
KEVIN: Way, way, way less than 1% of the persons that hold provincial or federally elected positions are persons with physical disabilities. You can see the gap: less than 1% [versus] 15%.
KEVIN: Traditionally, it has not been the habit in Canada, of our official parties of any colour to seek out qualified people from that demographic of persons with disabilities. But I mean I know lots of persons with disabilities, not only from our community of Nova Scotia, but I know lots of people with disabilities across Canada - across the globe - that would make excellent elected representatives in my opinion. Our job is to create the kind of environment that - and I’ll use the safe wording that - does everything we can to inspire them to consider it. Because it is a job that’s not for everybody.
MARK: The third take home is that, when it comes to getting more people with disabilities into positions of political power, it takes more time and money to get elected, and that we should probably do something about that.
STEVE: In other places it’s happened, but not at the party level. It’s happened at the government level. England. They set up and Access to elected office Fund. At local or national level, they can apply and take receipts for accommodation and have them reimbursed through the office. It would also take away the burden from a party to raise the money.
STEVE: I don’t think that any person with a disability would want to be perceived as being a burden on their party.
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Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Off Script, and thank you to Steven Estey, Kevin Murphy and Jerry Pye for participating in the interviews for this week’s episode.
Interviews were done by Sandra Hannebohm and Louise Cockram. This episode was written by me, Mark Coffin. We’ll be back with a new special episode next week, and in the meantime, consider going to OffScript.ca/Donate and make a contribution to help us keep sending this podcast to that little device in your pocket.
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