A New Way of Thinking? Government Tell Me More Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities



Caring Citizen — A New Way of Thinking?

A New Way of Thinking?
Towards a Vision of Social Inclusion

A conference sponsored by The Laidlaw Foundation and the 
Canadian Council on Social Development

November 8, 2021

Presentation Notes: 

Catherine Frazee, Panelist

Social inclusion in context:

From Experiences of Exclusion to a Vision of Inclusion

It is a great privilege to be here.  Privilege, to get right to the heart of the matter, is the operative word.  It is our starting point, our stumbling block, our crucible test.  It confronts me with the uneasy question:  How is it that I enjoy red-ribboned name tag, lavalière microphone, simultaneous translation and the momentarily rapt attention of an entire room full of fine minds and noble hearts, while so many others meet only with rejection, struggle and insurmountable barriers in their pursuit of the most basic necessities of life?

As a long time human rights activist, I have come to believe that the answer, at least in part, arises from the fact that an exclusive focus upon rights and entitlement is not adequate to the challenge of promoting, respecting and protecting lives of dignity and equality for all citizens.  Everywhere around us, if we are honest and attentive, we can see plainly that the entrenchment of rights has been and continues to be matched by the entrenchment of poverty, abuse and despair. 

My point here is that, as critical as rights are in our movement toward social justice, the protection of rights in and of itself is not sufficient -- was not sufficient, for example, to protect Tracy Latimer.  Dignity and equality do not only trickle down from great lines of law and jurisprudence.  They also and equally bubble up from the ground of respect that each of us brings to our relationships with those whom we perceive to be different from ourselves in some fundamental way.  Failure of authentic relationship cries out from the Tracy Latimer tragedy just as much if not more than failure in the protection of rights.

Let me explain in this way.  Much of our focus in disability theory, disability studies and disability activism is access.  On the one hand, access is a straightforward matter, a matter mostly of bricks and mortar or lumber and nails and elbow grease.  Most of us, when we first think of access, think of ramps and curb cuts and coveted parking spaces.  Let me call this Access 101.  Here in this room -- and outside in our legislatures and our courtrooms -- people understand the language and the mechanisms of Access 101.

There is, however, much more to access than getting into conference centres or up onto speakers' podiums.  A lot happens along the road from the disabling accident, illness or genetic anomaly to the front door of the conference centre or the podium ramp.  Those of us who know every turn in that road understand at the core of our being that access is not simply about making our way into buildings.  Access is about making our way into human community. 

This deeper level of access -- let's call it the Access Graduate Seminar -- invites us into and engages us within a dynamic of access to respect, access to a sense of oneself as a whole person, access to identity as a valued contributor, a bearer of rights, knowledge and power. 

Seen through the lens of disability, social inclusion is therefore about access to human relationship.

My research for the Laidlaw Foundation, focusing upon the experiences of young people with disabilities in both inclusive and exclusionary educational and social contexts, suggests two fundamental principles:

  • that the experience of inclusion forges relationships of mutual regard and respect, and further,

  • that the engagement in such relationships accords resilience and surety to rights entitlement. 

When young people are connected, embraced within relationships of friendship and mutual attention, they are safe and secure, with their entitlements and status intact.

the just society graphicAs we work toward the development of a shared vision over the next two days, I suggest that we envision our task as that of constructing a gateway.  This gateway, which invites us into a just society, consists of two pillars -- pillars of equal weight and proportion.  The first is the pillar of inclusion; the second is the pillar of equality.  Parallel to our efforts to secure rights, we must work with equal consciousness and zeal to promote and secure relationships in which human value and purpose are affirmed. 

What can we do -- as policymakers, researchers, theorists and activists -- to promote and protect opportunities in which inclusive relationships will flourish?  Let me suggest four conditions as vital.

  • Proximity – We have to rub shoulders.  Of course inclusion means much more than mere proximity, but it means nothing and leads nowhere without proximity. Whether or not Michael is physically able to play hockey on his twin brother’s team, he is still a team member and he belongs with his mates in the locker room and in the players' box.  Once he’s there, and only once he's there, the alchemy of inclusion can begin.

  • Non-Interference – Time and again, disabled youth tell researchers that adults need to support by backing off!  We need to hear this message. Rachel can’t be permitted to put herself at risk by running out into traffic, but neither should she be singled out for constant adult supervision.  A companion dog, trained to work with children with autism, provides the safety she requires and, in the bargain, draws friends to Rachel like a magnet.

  • Time – An inclusive Rome definitely won’t be built in a day.  Whatever programs or policies we design, whenever measures or indicators we elect to monitor, we must remember that people need time to form relationship.  Jason’s first day of inclusive high school was confusing, frightening and discouraging.  But Jason has proved himself tougher than anyone expected.  This year he’s running for student council!

  • Shared Enterprise – We discover each other by working together.  We have to leave some of the work of social inclusion -- well -- undone.  A lot of work and planning went into building an accessible and fully supported summer camp program.  But at the end of the day, setting up their tents and building a campfire together was what ignited the friendships that secured Maria’s place in the circle.

Four simple conditions – neither unique nor extraordinary.  In a way, they parallel our own process -- what we are doing here, today and tomorrow.  Rubbing shoulders, taking time to reflect, expressing, exploring and building together, under the gentle and open guidance of our hosts.

Closing Reflection:

Amidst the unspeakable horrors of September 11, we know that victims and survivors alike reacted with a single overwhelming impulse.  They reached for the keypads of their cell phones and their computers.  They reached out, not for the cold comforts of technology and material property, but for precious moments of human connection that these tools afforded. Because when we are forced by circumstance of extremity to declare what we value above all else, the answer, it seems, universally and without exception, is relationship.

Catherine Frazee is an author, teacher, human rights activist and former Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.  

For more on the theme of time click here. 

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