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Six Degrees of Dignity

By David W. Shannon

 Dignity in Public Perception-The negative impact of stereotypical images of disability currently portrayed in mass media and in popular art forms harms both public perception and the individual’s sense of dignity. We need broad communication strategies targeted at reversing these discriminatory portrayals, and a better understanding of disabilities in order to reduce the over-representation of persons with disabilities.

Dignity in the Community-Practical alternatives in the area of personal care and housing are critical to maximize autonomy for persons with disabilities in an environment where their own needs are self-directed and barrier-free. Employment issues need to be addressed, to enhance opportunities for persons with disabilities to contribute their skills and benefit from economic participation.

Dignity in Law-The judiciary in Canada, through s. 15 - the equality provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - has provided a cornerstone for the protection of disability rights. Key advances include the legal duty to accommodate those with disabilities, which should be seen as a first step, rather than an end in itself.

Dignity in Public Policy-Policy initiatives that have been introduced in recent years - including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act - illustrate both opportunities and barriers in developing effective policy to address the needs of the disabled. Improvements are needed, along with a reversal of the negative impact brought by government funding cuts.

Dignity of Self-Through the removal of social and economic barriers - leading to empowerment and overcoming alienation and exclusion - the dignity of the disabled self can be reclaimed.

Dignity in Future-The recently ratified UN Convention on the Rights and Dignity of Persons with a Disability combines the protection of individual and group rights, while creating a framework for positive policy and public perception changes. It provides employers and their managers with an ideal opportunity to create workplace environments that are of change, policy initiative, and attitudinal transition - a forward-looking goal that will create a broad, common consensus, and hope for persons with disabilities.

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