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How does public policy influence the way in which we care for others?

Most relationships fall outside of the purview of laws, policies and regulations. A couple of notable exceptions include child welfare laws, which govern parental relationships, and family relations or marriage laws which govern the relationships between spouses (especially the continued financial commitment upon separation or divorce for those who are financially dependent). The purpose of these laws is arguably more to protect individual rights than to create an obligation to care for others.

Public policy is filled with examples of our attempts to protect the rights of citizens. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for example, protects our rights to free speech and freedom of assembly. It also protects minority groups, such as persons with disabilities, from discrimination.

There are no laws, however, which direct us to greet our neighbours when we meet on the street; to inquire about our colleagues' well-being in the morning, to send our condolences when a friend's father dies, or to assist a fellow-citizen at the grocery store whose car won't start. There are no laws which direct us to take a pie to a new neighbour, to host a block party, to ask a senior who has slipped and fallen if they need a hand, or to befriend someone who is isolated and vulnerable as a result of their apparent differences.

What guides our personal relationships and interactions is not laws, but rather an awareness of and commitment to our obligations to our fellow citizens. Public policy can, however, promote the conditions under which we are more likely to care for others or under which relationships with persons who are socially excluded are more likely to be nurtured.

Accessibility and inclusion, for example, are critical. If a building is not physically accessible to persons who use a wheelchair to get around, they will be excluded from activities in that building. If they don't have a wheelchair or transportation to the building, they will also be excluded. And finally, but equally importantly, if they aren't invited to the gatherings in the building or made to feel welcome once they arrive, they will also be excluded.

Following are some policy initiatives to support accessibility and/or inclusion:

The Accessible/Inclusive Cities Initiative aims to make British Columbia the most accessible and inclusive place in the world for persons with disabilities. Its first project is the Measuring Up guide, which will help cities determine how they can make their communities more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. The objective of the guide is to help foster greater opportunities for people with disabilities within individual communities. Read more...

The mission of the PLAN Institute for Caring Citizenship is to reduce the isolation and loneliness of people with disabilities and ensure that the gifts and contributions of all members of a community are encouraged and welcomed. The Institute has produced a policy paper called Connecting to Citizenship, which makes seven public policy recommendations that will promote relationships and the achievement of full citizenship for persons with disabilities.

The public policy work of PLAN (Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network) is aimed at reforming laws and policies, creating tools and mechanisms to create and maintain a good life, and making it easier for families to secure a good life for their relatives with disabilities. Learn about PLAN's public policy initiatives...

PLAN has been working hard to formulate a Disability Savings Plan, which would provide a tax vehicle for Canadian families to plan for the future of their relative with a disability. The DSP took a huge step towards reality in December 2006.

An Expert Panel established by Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recommended the creation of a Disability Savings Plan, a Disability Savings Grant and a Canada Disability Bond. If implemented, the DSP will benefit up to three quarters of a million Canadian families. The next step in achieving the Disability Savings Plan will be its inclusion in the next federal budget. Read more...

The External Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities was established by the federal government in February 2004. The Committee's purpose was to rethink the way Canada and its communities are shaped, and to help make sure that Canada will be a world leader in developing vibrant, creative, inclusive, prosperous and sustainable communities. After more than two years of research, the Committee released a report in June 2006, entitled From Restless Communities to Resilient Places: Building a Stronger Future for All Canadians.  The report outlines the Committee's major points of analysis and sets out its findings and recommendations for change.  Read the full report...

Action for Neighbourhood Change is a cross-sectoral initiative to develop local solutions for sustainable community development. Read the Caledon Institute's policy paper in support of this initiative.

Policy approaches to framing social inclusion and social exclusion: An overview, published by the Roeher Institute, is the product of a preliminary review of the literature on Social Inclusion and Exclusion. Intended as a background resource on conceptual and practical models of social inclusion, the report provides analysis at the level of comparing, synthesizing and critique.

Click here for further insights on government thinking about citizenship and disability.

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Please visit the PLAN website for the most current information about our public policy initiatives.

Please click here for some further insights on government thinking about citizenship and disability.
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