Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 10 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Monday, February 28, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 5:08 p.m. to
monitor issues relating to human rights and, inter alia, to review the machinery
of government dealing with Canada's international and national human rights
obligations (topic: federal programs supporting sports and recreational
activities for children and youth with disabilities).
Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Honourable senators, this evening we continue our
study of the federal government's policies and programs pertaining to persons
with disabilities in sport and recreational activities, with a particular
emphasis on the needs of children and youth under 25 years of age, and regarding
Canada's obligations under our Article 35 of the United Nations Convention on
the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
At our last meeting, we heard from government officials who helped us to
understand the current state of affairs in that regard. Today, we will hear from
experts in the field and those involved on the front lines.
For our first panel, we are pleased to welcome Robert Steadward, Founder and
Honorary President of The Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical
Achievement; Mary Law, Professor, School of Rehabilitation Science/ CanChild
Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster University; and Jill Le
Clair, Founder and Chair of the Global Disability Research in Sport and Health
Robert Steadward, Founder and Honorary President, The Steadward Centre for
Personal and Physical Achievement:
Thank you for your very kind invitation to come to this very interesting and
special event. I want to try to set the stage from my particular point of view,
and I will keep my comments brief.
I have had an opportunity to read this committee's evidence document. I found
it most interesting although, I found a number of discussions a little bit
disturbing. I have been in the business of working with people with disabilities
for 45 years and I found that some of the discussions might not have been quite
what they appear to be. I hope that we can have that discussion today.
As I said, I have spent the last 45 years working with people with
disabilities. I have done so from two points of view. The first is from an
academic and appointment point of view at a university, doing a lot of research
at a centre called the Steadward Centre. They usually wait until you are dead
before they name a centre after you, but maybe they are trying to tell me
something. I was also involved internationally, because I was a founder of the
International Paralympic Committee and responsible for bringing the
International Paralympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee
together. As a result, we were able to get quite involved in international sport
from an integrated perspective.
We need to do more work in a number of areas. First, I see that a number of
the individuals working in the area with the government have very little if any
background dealing with disability. Many of the meetings held over the years
have not really included what I consider national or international experts who
can lend considerable credence to what we are trying to achieve.
Second, we talk about employment for people with disability quite often, and
we have always looked at physical activity and lifestyle as a precursor to
future employment. If you are not fit, you are not healthy, you do not have a
good lifestyle, and you will not be a very good employee, anyway.
It is very difficult to compare high-level sport to the regular physical
activity and skill development of young children and youth with disability. We
put a lot of emphasis on a very small number of people in this country and yet
the greatest percentage of the disabled population is quite marginalized. We
talk about the disabled being marginalized from the able-bodied population,
while people with disability are also marginalized from the disabled population,
Third, a lot of funding has gone into high-performance sport, particularly
through the Canadian Paralympic Committee, national sport organizations, et
cetera. We believe there is a greater need to provide workshops and indirect
support for coaches, teachers, instructors and parents who need to gather
education and awareness on fitness and lifestyle activities for people with
disability. We have been very successful doing that at the Steadward Centre in
There is a gap between some of the government opportunities and finances, and
the national organizations, whether they are sport- or non-sport-related
organizations. There is another great gap with the youth or children with
disability and the people working in the field.
We tend to use the medical model. Remember many people who acquire a
disability never see the inside of a hospital. How do they find out what
community programs are available? That is why we at the Steadward Centre do not
push so much the school programs as much as we do in the communities, because
the schools are not set up from a professional staff point of view to handle
There are a number of other issues. Cost is one; we could talk about a tax
break. Parents do not need a tax break 11 or 12 months from now. Rather, they
need the money now to pay for the program they want to put their child into. It
is a small point, but it is sometimes a deterrent for some of our parents. Our
children's program, for children 4 to 16 years of age, started with 20 children
and now has over 500 participants. We were able to provide a program that does
not cost them any money because of our fundraising efforts.
Gender has always been a great concern. Having raised only daughters, I have
always had to work alongside two daughters who tell you what to do. I believe
that non-traditional offerings for women will likely be needed as opposed to a
lot of the traditional sports, because the same opportunities are not available
for youth, children or the older adults for women because they do not fit into
that mould we created years ago.
Mary Law, Professor, School of Rehabilitation Science/CanChild Centre for
Childhood Disability Research, McMaster University, as an individual: Thank
you very much for the invitation; I am pleased to be here today. I would like to
focus my remarks on the results of several large research studies we at CanChild
at McMaster University have done over the past decade. I want to highlight a few
of our findings.
We have studied participation in recreation, leisure and sport. We have found
that children and youth with disabilities, regardless of their diagnosis, are
more limited in their participation in social activities, recreational
activities and physical sport activities, both at school and in the community.
We also found that their specific diagnosis is less predictive of their
participation levels than their functional ability or their number of health and
development conditions. While a child or youth's functional abilities predict
their participation, a specific diagnosis does not.
In a study we have just completed between Canada and the U.S. with colleagues
in Boston, we found striking differences between children and youth with and
without disabilities regarding their participation in specific community
activities. I will give a number of examples: 37 per cent of children and youth
with disabilities never take part in organized physical activities compared to
10 per cent amongst those without disabilities; 24 per cent never take part in
unstructured physical activities in the community in comparison to 2 per cent of
their peers; and 73 per cent of children and youth with disabilities never take
part in organization, groups and club activities in the community compared to 57
per cent of those without disabilities.
We have also studied participation in recreation and physical activities for
those over the ages of children and youth; such participation decreases into
adolescence, while participation in social activities increases. The pattern is
similar for children and youth with and without disabilities.
Boys with disabilities participate in more active physical pursuits, while
girls participate more in social and skill- based activities. This pattern is
similar to that of children without disabilities.
When we looked at the factors that predict participation levels, families are
vital. Children and youth participate more when their families are more engaged
in social and recreational activities. They participate more when the household
income is higher and when there are greater family and social supports.
We also did a study looking at youth priorities. This was a study with 203
youth with cerebral palsy. It dealt with the participation issues that these
youth identified most frequently related to active leisure, mobility, school and
In looking at participation, we have a keen interest in looking at those
factors that help or hinder, particularly those factors within the community
environment. Environmental factors can be a support or a barrier. It is not
always the physical environment that provides the most barriers; it is often
attitudes or lack of support.
We certainly find that access is an issue. Our recent study shows that 36 per
cent of families reported a lack of availability of programs and services in
comparison to 3 per cent of children without disabilities.
An interesting study across several countries in the European Union found
substantial differences in participation in recreation, leisure, and sport
across nine European regions. The study looked at the social and legislative
characteristics that account for these differences.
A number of things can be done to foster communities and environments that
support participation. There is a need for inclusive policies that expand
opportunities for children and youth of all abilities. These policies can
increase the availability and the quality of universally accessible facilities
There is a need for information for families. It is hard for families to find
resources about where they can participate and how to get support. We know that
families play a vital role in determining a child's participation. Building
community infrastructure with a focus on universal design is important, as is
the promotion of strategic alliances between organizations such as
municipalities and the YMCA.
There is a need to minimize the structural barriers in communities. These
barriers relate to accessibility, cost, transportation, availability of support,
and organizational supports.
Jill Le Clair, Founder and Chair, Global Disability Research in Sport and
Health Network: Good afternoon, senators, parliamentary committee members,
ladies, and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting us to participate in this
committee's hearings. I am pleased that Canadian parliamentarians share our
concerns about issues of inclusion and the development of sport and recreation
programs for children and youth in the context of the UN convention.
I am an anthropologist with a long-term interest in the cultural framing of
sport and physical activity. I have been conducting research and publishing in
the field of sociology of sport for over two decades; more recently, in the
field of disability and participation in competitive sport internationally, with
my focus on high performance Paralympic swimmers. My experience, in terms of the
results of the experiences of athletes, is very similar to those points outlined
by Mary Law.
I lived an active physical life that changed in an instant by a T-bone car
crash that resulted in a spinal cord injury. This injury required a spinal
fusion with a metal plate and four screws, hence my ``zombie look'' with the
brace. However, having engaged in physical activities helps me in being here. I
feel bicultural in terms of disability, as I have lived in both worlds.
As you have received copies my overview of the history of disability in
sport, I will not cover the different sports such as the Deaflympics, the
Paralympic games, and Special Olympics.
The importance of the UN convention is that it symbolizes a shift from the
previous models of disability used for policy and practice. Originally, there
was family responsibility and the charity model, followed by social welfare
after World War II. The medical model is still in use in many countries where
society creates or defines disability. There is also the rights based model of
Physical activity and movement are part of everyday life. It is important
that children and youth with disabilities have the opportunity to participate.
In the past, children literally sat on the sidelines. The expectation of
inclusion will continue into adult life and the work world. In current times,
having a job and earning money are key attributes of independence and social
integration. People with disabilities are either underemployed or unemployed.
Money is a key topic in any discussion of any aspect of these issues.
The feeling that you belong and have the right to be included varies from
each individual person with a disability battling for a space in a job and
having to negotiate accommodations.
There are 650 million people worldwide with disabilities. Many countries,
including our own, have declining aging populations that highlight the urgent
issues of accessibility, support, and the importance of maximizing healthy
activity from an early age. Disability statistics are varied, as are the
criteria for defining a disability. Revenue Canada has one set of criteria,
while CPP, Statistics Canada, insurance companies, occupational therapists,
physiotherapists and disabled individuals have others.
Those working hard — some of whom are Canadians — to have the UNCRPD passed,
decided to stop trying to define ``disability'' and decided that the convention
would include all kinds of disabilities. I feel that is an important point.
Assumptions about normalcy and everyone being normal are inaccurate. It is
often said that perfection is a religious concept, not a worldly reality, and I
would argue that the ``normal'' person is an artificial construct and the sooner
diversity and difference are recognized, the easier life will be for all of us.
One of the problems in the context of research is that, outside of ``medical
norms'' research in the social sciences of sociology, anthropology, and
psychology assume that the subjects studied all ``function'' normally. Every
undergraduate student learns the importance of including variables related to
age, gender, race, ethnicity and socio-economic status or class. However,
physical ability and mobility are assumed, even when the reality of difference
is present. It is assumed that everyone in this room can see, hear, and sit for
an extended period, when, in fact, more than one person may have eyeglasses,
contacts, a hearing aid, a brace, orthotics, or may be using medications for
physical or mental health issues. Some persons with disabilities can pass and
turn their disability invisible, while others cannot.
Exclusion policies can be in many forms, both subtle and not so subtle.
Enhanced security has meant additional barriers and challenges, as we have here
today. Inclusion takes many forms, and some of these Ms. Law and Mr. Steadward
have discussed: literature, signage, assistance or support through personnel and
funding, education and training, curriculum — which is a serious challenge —
policy and practice.
The federal government can make policy and suggest practices that provide a
framework that administrative sport officials, educators and athletes can
invoke. In turn, the benchmarks that the UN convention outlines as essential can
be set in place. Provincial initiatives like the Accessibility for Ontarians
with Disabilities Act, 2005 are important; however, additional initiatives would
support change. The compliance date of 2025 seems a long way off to many members
of the disability community, including the 2025 activists. I hope that the
committee can support change for inclusion in high-performance sport and
recreational activities at the provincial and local level: physical education,
playgrounds and activities in parks and tourist sites.
In terms of general comments, Dr. Seuss, in The Cat in the Hat put, it
in this way in regards to two children — but this applies to all:
The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day. . .
So all we could do was to Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit!
And we did not like it.
Not one little bit.
Canadians have been innovators in bringing about change both in Canada and
globally. Dr. Robert Steadward was the driving force behind the disability sport
organizations that evolved into the sport-based Paralympic Games in 1989. Terry
Fox and Rick Hansen have had a global impact that we are not aware of here in
Canada. They both changed perceptions about the physical abilities of athletes
with disabilities and challenged the previous acceptance of inaccessible
environments. Work by these individuals has changed the assumptions of the past,
when the abilities of those with different bodies were underestimated. One
person and one committee can make a difference.
As in all sport, there is diversity of models and ways of supporting
inclusion. One way is to encourage and promote the participation of persons with
disabilities in mainstream sporting activities, which has not been in the case
in the past. The shift from disability-based to sport-based activities is part
My work with Swimming Canada has shown very clearly that sometimes
initiatives precede legislation. There is an example in swimming. In 1993,
Swimming Canada drew up a memorandum of understanding to bring athletes with a
disability together with non-disabled athletes. We did so in order to create a
situation where, instead of having four separate and segregated teams with
different disabilities competing internationally, the swimmers would focus on
the sport itself and how they could perform in the water to create one Canadian
team that would include people with different disabilities. Over a period of
time, the athletes with disabilities and the Olympic athletes would come
They integrated the athletes together step by step; it did not happen in six
months or a year. It started with the memorandum in 1993 and continued right up
until 2004. It is a successful model. However, as with most things, it takes
We need to ensure that persons with disabilities have an opportunity to
organize, develop and participate in disabilities specific sporting and
recreational activities. To this end, we must encourage the provision on an
equal basis with others of appropriate instruction, training and resources.
I know it is not the same thing, but we have some examples of gender becoming
the focus of the sport activity with women and girls. Girls say they want to
play girls hockey, and there is nothing wrong with that and there will be cases
where that is most appropriate. In order to do that, you need support for
organizations that support disability-in-sport activities, such as the Canadian
Paralympic Committee. As an example, many people in the deaf community do not
want to be part of the disability community; they do not see deafness as a
disability. They say that they have Deaf culture and if you are reading about
it, you will see that the word ``deaf'' is capitalized, meaning they are
separate and autonomous and want to run their own sport events.
Sometimes separate competition events are preferred in areas where there
might be different equipment, such as wheelchairs, or accommodations in the
rules. In swimming, depending on the disability, it might be more appropriate to
start from a sitting position or from in the water. The actual rules are the
same but there is accommodation in terms of beginning the actual race.
The third issue is to ensure persons with disabilities have access to
sporting, recreation and tourism venues. I think we are all aware of those
We must also ensure that children with disabilities have equal access as
other children to participation in play, recreation, leisure and sporting
activities, including those in the school system. Dr. Steadward referred to the
challenges in the school systems where the schools want to ensure everyone is
Change takes time. I want to point to the example of the University of
Toronto's Faculty of Physical Education and Health. That faculty had action
plans from 2007 to 2010, where they drew up a list of changes, having categories
such as facilities, the curriculum and pedagogy. They had a list of goals,
barriers, initiatives, action expected, who was to lead that initiative, the
target date, the cost and the completion date. This was a long-term project to
try to ensure that those graduating from their faculty will go out into the
field of education or other areas and bring their knowledge and learning.
The students are required to take courses on inclusive activities and sports,
and all staff are required to take training in understanding disabilities and
know about inclusive practice for physical activity via a training film. The
students take compulsory courses in equity and adaptive physical education. None
of this would we find in most universities not too long ago.
My last point is about ensuring that persons with disabilities have access to
services from those involved in the organization of recreational, tourism,
leisure and sporting activities. In that way, it is possible to gain access to a
centre outside in a park or in the country. Even in the city, we find parks do
not have paths that people with wheelchairs or canes can access. These often
require modifications, accommodations and additional expenses that I would argue
should be built into the budget. At the same time, the need for training and
education come up whenever we do workshops in these areas.
I think part of the challenge is that there is some discomfort in these times
of political correctness that sometimes people stumble over words and what they
should say. Some people are thinking it is more polite to use the term
``handicapped'' and they get uncomfortable, do not what to say, or try to
pretend they do not notice that someone is in a wheelchair. All of those things
make the discussion of some of these aspects of developing practices and
policies for inclusion a little bit uncomfortable. That is something that needs
to be included in a discussion around these issues.
Senator Kochhar: Thank you.
As a preamble to my questions, we have come a long way in the last 30 years
when we used to call some people ``crippled people'' or ``crippled athletes.''
It was very prevalent. As a Canadian I am very proud that Canada has taken a
leadership role in advancing the cause of people with physical disabilities,
whether it is on a school level or an elite athlete level.
Senator Munson has done a lot to convince the federal government to do the
funding for the Canadian Paralympic Committee and the Canadian Special Olympics.
My hat goes off to him for his continuous efforts over the last many years.
All three of you have talked to generalities. I want to know what programs
you have right now, where you got the funding, and if you are aware of what
federal funding is available. Until about two weeks ago, I was not aware of all
of the funding available, and I have been in the business of helping people with
disabilities for over 30 years.
Can you develop new programs and what kind of new programs can you develop to
help youth with disabilities to take part in physical activities and sports? You
aware there is a lot of funding being done for the Paralympic committee; the
government just gave $5 million a year for the next five years. I am not too
worried that our Paralympic athletes will not go a long way from what they were
a year ago with less than $1 million funding. Now they have gone from $1 million
to $5 million.
Sports and health are a provincial jurisdiction. How can the federal
government cooperate directly with organizations like The Steadward Centre for
Personal and Physical Achievement, Variety Village, et cetera? Many other
centres in many of the big cities receive zero funding, whether federal or
provincial. How can the federal government get involved to bring better programs
and fund them in cooperation with the provincial governments?
Mr. Steadward: Thank you very much, Senator Kochhar. A number of
programs exist around our country. In 1986, I hosted the Jasper Talks symposium.
At that time, a number of professionals who were running programs for people
with disabilities felt they were unaware of some of the other great programs in
our vast country. That event brought ``the best Canadian minds'' to Jasper.
These people were running programs for people with disabilities. The Active
Living Alliance was created as a result of that symposium, as were other
programs of sport, recreation and leisure.
There are many programs. Unfortunately, I do not believe that we communicate
very effectively or extensively with parents and families of children with
disability. We do not communicate effectively with other professionals,
universities and governments.
When I created the Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical Achievement in
1978, I was concerned that people with disabilities did not have a place to
develop the skills they would need for education, sport, and lifestyle and to
become more independent.
The centre relies on yearly fundraising efforts. Their budget is not large,
it is less than $1 million, but we are finding there is a gap in our programs.
There are accessible programs, but other professionals need the opportunity to
be trained to deal with young children to help them become more independent. We
need more trained individuals to help the children to participate in physical
activity and to help them prepare for education and employment in the future.
I read somewhere that the federal, provincial, and territorial governments
are holding meetings. That just does not get the message out. The people
gathered around those meetings are not necessarily aware of all of the good
programs; therefore, they do not know what to do. If the right people were
hand-picked, I think you would find that there are wonderful programs across the
country, whether you talk about the Variety Village or what Mary Law and Jill Le
Clair are doing. Maybe it is time to take stock to see where we were and where
we want to go in the future. There are huge gaps for the everyday person with a
Senator Kochhar: Unless you know the programs that can be developed,
you cannot ask for help because people on the street do not know what is needed.
You cannot fund anything unless you know what is required. I want to get the
list of your programs. You said you have a $1 million budget that comes mainly
from private fundraising. Do you get any provincial or federal help? If not, why
not, and how can you get it?
Mr. Steadward: Like you Senator Kochhar, I have learned of some
available federal funding, and I thought I knew where all the money was, but I
did not realize some of these programs existed. I think that needs to be well
known across the nation, and I think that would certainly help.
At the Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical Achievement, we have
satellite centres, not only at the university, but also throughout the city, as
well as in Red Deer and Calgary. There is a $125 million centre in Korea that
was created based on the programs organized at the Steadward centre.
Senator Kochhar, I have left a number of documents concerning the centre and
the programs we operate for children and youth. One tremendous program called
Free to Be Me, has really bridged some of the gap with professionals, schools,
parents, and young disabled children. I have left three major portfolios to
distribute as you see fit.
Senator Kochhar: Have you listed what additional programs you can
develop to enlarge the scope of what you are doing and what kind of help is
Mr. Steadward: Yes, they are listed in the five-year strategic plan.
Having been retired for a few years, I may not be as on top of that as I should
Ms. Law: It is important to know what programs are available and to
provide information about those programs. I think it is equally important to try
to improve the access that families and children and youth with disabilities
have to programs that are universally accessible to everyone within the
We see this example at the YMCA, where programs for all children have been
made universally accessible. Children and youth have choices and preferences. If
we take an individualized approach, the federal government can be helpful in
providing information about training, supports, and resources. This information
it is not readily available to families and organizations. I think there is a
lot we can do to make the programs accessible to all children and youth within
Ms. Le Clair: I think the point about existing programs and
accessibility is an important one. Part of the challenge is a lack of training
I am a member of a YWCA in Toronto where I use the pool. Many of the pools in
Toronto are under-serviced. I know it is big, bad Toronto, but we are
under-serviced in pools and so on. That is why the Toronto Sports Council got
together to raise awareness about the lack of services, which people find
incredible in a city like Toronto.
The pool does not have steps into it as there are in larger pools, so they
installed a little chair that goes out over the water. After I knew I was coming
here to speak to this committee, I thought I would try the chair. It is tricky
to get into the pool but I manage to hold on to the bars and descend the ladder.
However, this time I thought I would try the chair. I said to the lifeguard, ``I
would like to use the chair.'' He looked a bit uncomfortable and said, ``I am
sorry; it is broken.''
I asked the husband of a woman who is an amputee what was going on. He told
me that the chairs are electric, and they have to put the motor underneath the
tile that surrounds the pool away from the water for safety. Apparently, it
operates on a battery that malfunctions all the time due to the humidity and
dampness of the pool. I said that many children and adults would like to use
this chair to get into the pool. Often the pool is inaccessible because of
limited hours for recreational swimming. The timetable includes a great deal
more time for lengths and classes.
The man went on to tell me that in other pools a mechanical hand crank
performs the function to put the person in the water. That mechanism does not
fail because it does not depend on electricity to perform the function. I
thanked the man for his useful information.
It is that type of accommodation, the installation of a hand crank, that
means children and adults can participate when it is difficult to get into the
pool. I would say many things like that are happening.
In Toronto, it was argued in the late 1980s that girls were not interested in
ice hockey. The reason girls did not show up is that they did not know there
were opportunities to participate in hockey. The moment the City of Toronto said
that girls and women could learn to play ice hockey recreationally, the numbers
increased. One of the reasons we do not see many people in these programs is
because there are not simple things to make them accessible and they do not feel
welcome. I support that point about education, and, at the University of
Toronto, they are trying to get the word out for people who will end up either
in commercial sports clubs, exercise gyms or in the schools or other places.
There is an emphasis on that.
Variety Village serves many children and has had a number of successful
Canadian Paralympic gold medallists come from that program. That organization is
struggling for money and targeting non-disabled people in order to get the
revenue stream up. They are very much understaffed. Their model has been copied
in other countries, but they are struggling. I would say that would be at the
top of the list of places to look at.
A problem I found in my research was that many families do not know where to
go. Archie Allison, who did the outreach at Variety Village, said the same
thing; families are struggling. A family with a newly injured child will
flounder around and spend a lot of time and energy looking for help. These
families do not know where to go for help.
Mr. Steadward's idea of making information available would be helpful to
families because of the extra costs associated with having a child with a
disability. I find that very often the mother will take a reduced workload in
order to support the child's activities. This reduction in workplace activity
means the family income is reduced further because it leaves only one person
working full time. Money problems create an entire series of issues surrounding
the child with a disability.
We did not talk about this before we came to speak with you formally, but I
find that disability is not on the agenda very often in terms of trying to get
grants from, for example, SSERC. They have funded some projects, but I submitted
a couple of times, and one time I got a review that said, ``I do a lot to try
and support students with disability, but I do not think your proposal is
appropriate because you will not find anybody interested.'' What does that have
to do with the quality of the proposal we were putting forward?
Education is an area where most people, I think that Professor Law and Dr.
Steadward would agree, involved in disability issues are usually wearing many
hats, and that is certainly the case with our global network. They are wearing
their academic hat but they are nearly always wearing an activist hat or
involved with sport hat or trying to raise awareness hat, basically trying to
push issues around disability and children and youth and sport, which means they
are overworked. It is sometimes difficult for them to take on other major
research projects, and it has not been an area in other countries that has been
funded very much.
We found that in countries such as Malaysia, Fiji or Kenya, most often one or
two younger people conduct the work. They do not have three or four senior
researchers to work with and to get that kind of information.
I would give a plug for trying to ensure there is some research done on the
ground, tied in, perhaps, with the conference Mr. Steadward suggested, where
people can have the time and resources to put together information that would
help people on the ground.
Senator Munson: Welcome. This study that we are engaging in is timely.
I appreciate the remarks of Senator Kochhar. He used the word ``cripple'' in the
connotation of the past, but these words are still out there. Psychologically,
we still have is a lot of work to do as a society. Working with Special
Olympics, like I do, intellectually challenged or disabled, you still hear the
word in our present day vocabulary. You hear the word ``retard.'' I cringe when
I hear someone saying that to someone else. There has to be work done in our own
society to eliminate those words, because they hurt and affect people. Even when
said as a joke to someone, it bothers me immensely.
I want to know your access to Parliament Hill. We have to lead by example.
How did you find your access to Parliament Hill? Is it up to par in terms of
being inviting to those who are involved in sport or are just coming to the
Ms. Le Clair: Do you want an honest answer?
Senator Munson: Yes.
Ms. Le Clair: I was naive, and it has been a while since I actually
tried to get into the buildings. I knew there was security. My friend came to
assist me, and we managed to get out of the taxi into a pile of snow. We were
told that a taxi cannot go anywhere on the Hill. I said, ``We will have to go
through the snow and make our way all the over to the other building.'' A very
nice policeman said, ``I am afraid so.'' Apparently it is my own fault for not
doing the research in advance. If I had asked, it would have been possible to
get a special pass that would allow the taxi to go through. I naively thought,
as happens in many security environments, that if you show the Ontario
disability identification and explain the situation that they would let you go
in. That happens typically quite often in situations where it is not quite clear
what the rules are and what you need to do and where you need to go. Maybe I was
misinformed, but I was told the only way to get in the other side was Wellington
Senator Munson: You are saying we have a lot of work to do. We are
rebuilding all these buildings. They are ancient and falling apart. That is a
classic example of where we are. We talk and beat our chest and say we are doing
well, but are we really, particularly when it comes to access to older
buildings? We have to pay attention to that. I have heard those examples before
from those who come to the Hill and still have difficulty finding the ramp going
each way, big signs. This is the centre stage of our democracy, and we have work
Ms. Le Clair: For some institutions now, you can go online. Maybe I
should have done that, but I was naive. You can look, and they will have a
wheelchair sign on the map, which means that you can get from whatever that
central area is called in the front of the buildings into the building, or from
the street into the building. People can figure out a strategy in advance, and
they might have to go around to the back or things like that.
Senator Munson: Moving on, do you think there should be a separate
sports ministry dealing with disabled children and youth. This is part of our
study. We do have the Minister of Fitness and Amateur Sport, a lot of attention
is paid to generic sports, and of course those who participate in disabled
sports. I do not know the exact figure, but I have heard that one in 10
Canadians is disabled, or something along that line. It is big business. Do you
have any observations on a separate ministry dealing with this issue?
Mr. Steadward: I suppose I would have argued 30 or 35 years ago that
it would have been nice to have a separate ministry. However, through the years,
we have worked very hard for integration within the sport movement. It is
important to have one ministry as long as athletes with disabilities and other
programs are treated fairly, equitably and equally. Keep in mind that 14 per
cent of our population has some significant disability that prevents them from
participating in regular sporting activities within the community. That does not
mean we should cut the pie and give 14 per cent, because when you start looking
at programs for people with disability in the sport, recreation and leisure
area, the start-up costs are much greater than for the non-disabled. Equipment
and transportation are much more expensive. All of a sudden, you have costs that
are quite prohibitive that do not compare to those without a disability.
In addition, there is the potential to raise the kind of funds to help with
training and facilities, et cetera. The Canadian Olympic Committee, for example,
is able to generate huge amounts of money and benefit a great deal more from the
Olympic program than they do from a Paralympic program. Again, there is not the
equity right there. In the past, some national organizations took the money but
did not use it for programs for athletes with a disability, they used for other
events. As a result, our athletes never received the same kind of opportunities.
As Ms. Le Clair has pointed out, swimming came forward early on and it was a
kind of activity that was much easier to integrate than sledge hockey into
regular ice hockey, wheelchair basketball into stand-up basketball. We have to
be careful when we talk about integration and segregation because we still have
to have a certain amount of segregation in order for the grassroots to develop.
How do you do that when you go into a town, village or city, and you have a
young disabled child there and there and there, and you have to bring those
children together to create some kind of a program, which makes it difficult
from a transportation, et cetera, point of view?
It is difficult to compare the two, but fundamentally, from my experiences
and the way the Paralympic program has gone internationally, I absolutely
believe that we need to have a ministry to handle the full scope of sport,
because we are experiencing, in the Paralympic movement, the same thing that
many of our friends in the Olympic program are experiencing. We lost one of the
greatest coaches in the world about a year or so ago, who was producing the
Chantal Petitclercs of the world. Where is he now? He is coaching in England. We
do not have the means to keep those coaches in our programs. He is only one
example and there are many more examples across our country of people who get
opportunities to go elsewhere.
Senator Munson: If we do not have the means, how do we change that
Mr. Steadward: I suppose we need an integrated ministry that is aware
of the need for sport programs for disabled from the grassroots right through.
There must be a feeder system, programs that build from the grassroots up, and
we do not always have that. We see so much money going into the podium program,
which is needed, but they figure that is enough and that will do for everything
at the grassroots, but it will not. It is not developing at that area.
It is not always just money; it is goodwill, it is the volunteer base. To be
brutally honest, it is interesting, and I have seen this many times, to note
that Paralympic sport is not sexy and it is tough to encourage the kind of
involvement we want with the media. The media gave us lip service, even in
Vancouver. It was only at the last minute that they decided that they had better
telecast the closing ceremonies.
We have to bring all the right minds together to be open and honest, put the
issues on the table, and start to resolve them.
Ms. Law: I agree that an integrated ministry is best. Some of the
European countries have focused on doing things from the grassroots up to the
high-level performance athletics. What they have focused on and done well is
issues of universal access and accessible transportation. They have established
national central resources of information for families, national sources of
information for training, and provided funding supports for families. With many
of those policies in place, they are able to develop programs for children and
youth with disabilities who just want to participate every day within their
community to those who want to develop and become high-performance athletes.
Senator Munson: This is where corporate responsibility comes into
play. I attended the opening ceremonies and 10 days of games in Shanghai where
there were 85,000 people in the stands, 120 countries, 10,000 athletes. In
Special Olympics in this country we have 32,000 athletes. TSN does a good job in
putting together an hour-long pre-recorded program around Christmastime, three
months after the games. It is a good program; it really highlights and shows it;
but at the same time, it is aired three months after the games. No one really
wants to pick up the tab and show a little bit.
Back when the games were in Dublin, there was a Danish television station
that had intellectually disabled Down's syndrome broadcasters do a program every
night live from Dublin. For me, it is riveting and compelling television to
watch. It is not always about winning; it is about showing the participation of
different parts of our society. It is not just about showing something for a
family that has a disabled athlete; it is about sensitizing and bringing them to
our television screens.
What are your views on corporate and federal responsibility sharing and
showcasing physically or intellectually disabled athletes in a timely manner?
Mr. Steadward: We attempted to do that a number of years ago. In the
1980s, we had a struggle with the International Olympic Committee because they
said they would not deal with 10 or 15 different international sport
organizations representing the different disabilities, whether the deaf and hard
of hearing, the intellectually disabled, the physically disabled et cetera. They
said to get together, but it was very difficult. I tried for years to bring all
the groups together. In fact, the international deaf sport were part of the
International Paralympic Committee. We just could not meet their needs. They had
such a large Paralympics of their own that there was no city prepared to host
such a large event. We had the intellectually disabled part of the movement, and
then we ran into the issue in 1996 in Atlanta, with the Special Olympics and the
intellectually disabled sporting organization. It created a lot of
philosophical, structural, governance issues in our movement. We lost sight of
the very purpose of us being there, to provide opportunities for these young,
developing athletes who wanted to achieve their goals as well.
As a result, the International Paralympic Committee went in its direction,
the Special Olympics stayed in its direction and the deaf and hard of hearing
have had separate games as well. It was always difficult to bring them together,
the same way as Toronto is hosting the 2015 games with two separate games. Is
that necessary or not? We worked with the Commonwealth Games back in the late
1980s. They were the first to open up their structure and say they would include
full medal events for athletes with disability, marching in with their
countries. However, it is not full integration because there are only certain
sports offered. It is not a full program as we know it; it is not every sport.
Can that happen in the Pan-American and the Parapan American Games? I believe
it can, but we have to find a way to do it.
Senator Munson: Do you think the federal government should initiate a
sports summit. Each of these organizations operates in silos, competing for
federal funding. They do not want pity or charity. They want money, like anyone
else, and to bring people into the room or on to the playing field.
Do you think a summit with the Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur
Sport would be helpful in bringing each of these groups into the same room? It
is a common cause.
Mr. Steadward: Absolutely, as long as the right people attend the
Ms. Le Clair: I think it would be very important in terms of your
question about a minister — and you both touched on this — to include sport in
the widest sense, which includes physical activity.
There is increasing movement within the research and I think within
communities to broaden that traditional definition of the word ``sport,'' which
often puts girls and women off because they think of rugby or football. If you
broaden it to developing skills and achievement, why not include things like
hip-hop dancing or yoga?
Sometimes we need to open up the forum. It would open up to persons and
children with disabilities and create the whole question of being physically
active as a life-long thing to do, get into the health area and get away from
the word ``sport'' that sometimes excludes people. That is an important point.
If the Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport is taking part, ensure
that health and fitness is included across the board.
In reference to the games, I know that people are starting to work very hard
on that with the Toronto Sports Council. I think that would be a very helpful
area because it would represent Canada to the whole of the Americas. If it were
possible to fund a summit tied into that, to support disability or the para part
of sports, and tie it into activities that would be done in schools, it would be
significant. Something I have been working on is a visual or photographic
exhibit to go around to the schools and use it as a way for children to get
involved in the issues and for teachers to discuss them.
I think it would be a good opportunity to take that high performance area and
use it as a teaching tool at the schools and colleges. I hope that would be an
area that you would see the federal government playing a role in and that would
not be seen as stepping on the toes of provincial jurisdiction.
Senator Hubley: Regarding our educational and medical systems, do you
see a greater role they could or should be playing with respect to our youth who
may be experiencing difficulty with a disability? Changes could be made in their
lives and information could be provided to them at that level. Perhaps, as you
said, they could bring in some visuals that would help them along. I am thinking
of situations in smaller communities where there may be only one disabled person
or perhaps the schools do not have any person disabled or in a wheelchair.
Do you have any comments on how the educational system and the medical
community could play a greater role in that respect?
Ms. Law: I think that both communities can play a very important role
in supporting the broadest participation of children and youth with
disabilities. A number of recreational sport and physical activities take place
within schools. However, as discussed, personnel in schools often do not have
the training necessary to provide the supports for children to participate
In terms of the medical and health community, I believe that things are
beginning to change. In the past, there was a medically based focus on a cure
rather than looking at issues of disability from a social perspective: how to
adapt the environment to improve access and finding the best fit between the
child or youth's preference for activity and a community environment.
I do think that people within the health care system, within rehabilitation
and other areas can provide both information and strategies to adapt
environments and provide accommodation so that children can participate more
Senator Hubley: I think the training is important. Do you know if that
is part of the curriculum for our young teachers in teacher training programs?
Ms. Law: It is part of the curriculum, but it is a very small part.
Ms. Le Clair cited an example from Toronto in a particular physical education
program. Within regular teacher training, disability issues are a small part of
what they do. There is a need for information resources, support and further
Senator Hubley: Do you see people with disabilities who have come
through and have been fortunate enough to get into the programs that they have
needed, such as coaching and volunteering to help get people, especially younger
people, into programs?
Mr. Steadward: There are unfortunately few because most athletes with
a disability have usually gone into the sport later in life and, therefore, they
are usually much older than a non-disabled athlete when they retire. They have
to get on with life, get a job and start making money because they know one
cannot make a career out of coaching in a sport for athletes with disability.
There are not the same opportunities.
Do we have the resources as far as the people? Absolutely. We have some of
the greatest Paralympians in the country, and most of the international
leadership came from this country. They are certainly there but, unfortunately,
there does not yet seem to be a way to encourage a Chantal Petitclerc to come
back and coach our Paralympians, as there could be no one better. That is a bit
of an issue.
I agree with your earlier point that education is vital. I know many
institutions have required courses to learn how to teach people with disability,
but then I would throw in my other hat of integration and say we would not need
a separate course if every professor and teacher included something about
disability in each course. Whether it is curriculum instruction, philosophy,
administration or finances, it would be better if it were embedded in the
When we first started going to major worldwide Olympic congresses talking
about sport, I was able to convince them to put in a separate section for sport
for athletes with a disability. Who came to it? The people involved with
disability. I wanted to talk to the exercise physiologists and doctors dealing
with able bodies. We need to integrate them into it and then you could educate
more, but those are some of the tough hurdles to overcome.
Senator Hubley: If I had a young daughter or son going into
post-secondary education, is there a centre or university in Canada that might
be more progressive in their programming to facilitate the disabilities of a
young person so that they might then achieve not only their academic but their
Mr. Steadward: Yes, there is.
Senator Hubley: Which would be the best or second best?
Mr. Steadward: I will use my own institution as an example. At one
point in time, within the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, there
were 10 professors in the area of dealing with disability. Now with retirements
and people moving, that number is down to about four. The University of Alberta
has the Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical Achievement, which is
recognized throughout the world. It has the program and the staff, but that
staff could change in a moment's notice. If you lose five or six staff, and they
are not replaced because of financial exigencies, then it makes it difficult.
There are a handful of good universities across the nation that still have
leaders in the various faculties of rehabilitative medicine, physical education
and recreational leisure and sport that feel that one of the priorities is
dealing with disability. However, it takes a champion to do that. Someone must
Ms. Le Clair: If you look at the campuses in Toronto today, compared
to 10 or 12 years ago, you will see students with crutches, students on scooters
and students in wheelchairs. There has been quite a shift at the undergraduate
level, in terms of increased numbers of students with disabilities.
When it comes to postgraduate studies — and, perhaps Dr. Steadward could
speak to this subject — you find a big drop-off point because there is not an
assumption to make accommodations. I do not mean just in terms of getting around
buildings, but there are issues of additional costs if a person with a
disability needs assistance, for example, with typing up notes, or doing the lab
or fieldwork, and so on. I think there are some real challenges there.
At the other end, there are few people with disabilities in academia.
Contrary to what people think — that is, that people sit on their behinds in an
ivory tower — teaching is physically demanding. There is walking on the
campuses, which are not accessible; there is having to stand and carry books to
go to the library if you are involved in research. All of these things are
physically demanding. With most conferences that I attend, there are literally
only one or two people with disabilities. Most withdraw from teaching if they
have acquired disabilities. There is a problem tying together what Dr. Steadward
said earlier about it being important to have people who have an understanding
that it is a bit different because they are disabled. That is the premise of the
disability community: Nothing about us without us. Historically, it involves
being told what to do. There is a great deal of resentment about that attitude.
Senator Andreychuk: Professor Law, you pointed out your research on
children and children with disabilities and some of the inhibitors for sports,
leisure, et cetera. What is the single most important issue? Research that I
have looked at indicates that children sometimes are not involved in sports and
leisure because of where they come from — that is, the culture did not put a
high premium on sports and leisure; for others it is financial difficulties. All
children have some difficulties going into those areas and the inhibitors are
Is it physical disabilities or lack of resources coupled with physical
disabilities? What is the special inhibitor beyond identifying the disability?
Ms. Law: It is difficult to say there is one particular barrier. Each
child and youth is an individual, and may encounter different barriers. However,
when you look at it as a whole, there are certain barriers that are certainly
present more often than other barriers. We have talked about a lack of
information; that is a barrier. We have talked about the need for training and
supports from people within organizations. We have pointed out that attitudinal
barriers are highly prevalent.
The issue of physical access is interesting because our research going into
the 1990s shows that physical access can be overcome. Often, some of the
institutional policies and attitudinal barriers prevent physical access from
being changed. I think there are a number of barriers, but those are the most
We also need to think about the supports that are available. Many
organizations have looked at universal access. Other organizations provide
information and support. Those supports can be helpful to families of children
and youth with disabilities.
Ms. Le Clair: Cultural anxiety around disabilities is common in many
countries where a disability is believed to be either a punishment from God or
some kind of bad karma in that, somehow, both the family and the child are being
My research, which was not a huge sample, indicates that in most Canadian
families the children are taught that the disability is a medical issue or a
biological issue. There is no blame or fault attached to the disability. They
are told, ``Get on with life and enjoy things. You are not to blame for
anything.'' That is one good thing about the situation of children growing up in
Canada and their contact with teachers, with the medical community and with the
community not tied directly with the child. Researchers in other countries find
the blame issue a great barrier to their work.
Senator Andreychuk: Mr. Steadward, you began your presentation by
saying that some of our previous testimony was troubling. Since you have raised
it, can you tell us what was troubling about it?
Mr. Steadward: I questioned the accuracy of some of the comments made
by some of the individuals responding to questions throughout the evidentiary
statements. I could not relate to some of the responses the committee received
from witnesses. It was a bit troubling. Perhaps that occurred because of lack of
experience dealing in the world of disability every day, and, at the other end,
being the recipient of funding or the way or why some of the funding is given,
what it is for and the result. Those are some of the niggling things. I sort of
penned them in there. When I got a chance to talk to some of them I do know,
like the Dan Smiths of the world, I took it up with them.
As Senator Kochhar has said, we have come a long way and we must be proud of
our journey. When I first started in 1966, the struggles were immense. What we
have achieved is really quite remarkable. However, we still have a long way to
go. We looked back on our success, but we forgot to keep pushing that rock up
the hill and it started to come back. Canada was the agent of change
internationally. However, all of a sudden, because of the funding, the structure
and the governance that Australia, Great Britain and others have taken on, they
have leapfrogged over us.
When we talk about a summit or where we should go from here, we need to move
forward and not worry so much about what happened in the past but prepare better
for our citizens of this country in the future.
Senator Andreychuk: The witnesses come before us and we take them as
reliable witnesses. Everyone has a different perspective and that is what gives
the richness to the testimony.
Mr. Steadward: Absolutely.
Senator Andreychuk: Are you saying that we can rely on the testimony
of the previous witnesses? This is the first time I have heard someone make such
Mr. Steadward: Oh, I think so.
Senator Andreychuk: The messages from previous witnesses are still
valid, is that what you are saying?
Mr. Steadward: Yes, but I believe it would be useful for a dialogue
with the witnesses to understand how they came to the conclusions they put forth
in committee hearings. I believe it would be useful to understand their
perspectives and ask them how they gathered their information. That information
is quite different from our own information. If we have the opportunity to have
such discussions, then I believe it the differences will be easy to resolve. To
me, it points to the importance that there is a great need in the future, and
that is why I am so pleased with what is happening here. We are now focusing
back on issues that are near and dear to this country, and we need to move
forward to ensure that we can change it and make it better.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much for coming here this afternoon.
We learned a great deal from you, and you have given us much to work with. I
know that we will be contacting you further as we work on our report, and we
thank you for your presence here today.
For our second panel today, we are pleased to welcome from the Active Living
Alliance for Canadians with a Disability, Jane Arkell, Executive Director and
Jason Dunkerley, Program Coordinator. Representing Variety Village, we have John
Willson, Chief Executive Officer and Archie Allison, Director, Outreach and
Education, both of whom are joining us by video conference.
Jane Arkell, Executive Director, Active Living Alliance for Canadians with
a Disability: Thank you so much for inviting us here tonight. Mr. Dunkerley
is my colleague at the Active Living Alliance, but in addition to that, he is a
Paralympic gold medalist. I have royalty sitting beside me. He just came back
from the world championships. Not only is he a brilliant colleague, he is also a
wonderful athlete, so he can shed some light on this subject.
Honourable senators, thank you so much for inviting us to talk about the
government's policies and programs pertaining to persons with disabilities in
sports and recreational activities. Congratulations to this committee for
bringing this important topic to the table. It is also important in light of the
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Research tells us that physical activity is a key to health and wellness for
those with a disability. We believe that if the articles in the UN convention
are achieved, a more level playing field will be created for citizens with a
disability. The convention strives for equality, which we believe many Canadians
with a disability do not presently enjoy on a day-to-day basis.
Our association has sought to promote these values since its inception in
1989. We feel that our organization is well qualified to speak to you today
about sport and recreation for those with a disability, given our proven record
of accomplishment over the past two decades. It has been my great pleasure to be
the executive director since inception in 1989.
Our national network is dedicated to the wellness of those with disabilities
through healthy active living, sport and recreation. In fact, we are often the
first point of contact for an individual with a disability in his or her quest
to become more active. We were formed out of an expressed need because teachers,
leaders, coaches, organizations and communities were faced with the challenge of
including people with a disability but they were ill prepared to do so. Since
then, we have grown to a national network of over 150 organizations. We are
organized in every province and territory, and we have a reach of 500,000
Canadians. We represent all disability groups — sensory, mobility, mental health
The Government of Canada, through the fitness and amateur sports secretariat
in 1989, was very valuable in the creation of the alliance. They realized that a
network was very important to reach communities to connect what was happening.
We have had some great successes, but we really do have a long way to go. We
are excited to speak to you today. In terms of our federal government's policies
and programs, we would like to congratulate Sport Canada for its amazing support
to the Paralympic movement, in which Senator Kochhar has played a big part. They
have raised the bar to incredible heights in support of excellence.
Furthermore, programs such as the Canadian Sport for Life movement and the
Long Term Athlete Development model have provided Canada with an effective
framework for Paralympic athletes and excellence.
Another success story is the Office for Disability Issues within HRSDC. They
recognize and support the importance of healthy active living and how it
contributes to success, self-esteem, employment, education, health and
independence for citizens with disabilities.
In addition, a number of arm's length agencies support physical activities
for those with disability. These include the Canadian Institutes of Health
Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Physical and Health Education
At this time, I would also be remiss if I did not recognize corporate Canada,
as Pfizer Canada has been our sole corporate sponsor and has invested over $1
million over the past decade.
Unfortunately, however, it is not all good news. Federal government
leadership and support from the most natural partner for physical activity is
sadly lacking, and I am referring to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The
Healthy Living Strategy of the Public Health Agency has dwindled to a fraction
of its size over the past seven years, which has had a severe impact on the
community. This is a disappointment to the sector, but it is also a huge
disappointment to persons with a disability, because of the importance of
physical activity and the lack of investment.
Research tells us that physical activity is even more important for those
with a disability, more than for the general population, yet today there is very
little federal investment. There was a time when Canada was a world leader in
physical activity for persons with disabilities. For example, our national
network was one of a kind around the world in the 1990s. We were a model that
was respected and sought after. Since then, our association has been modeled in
other countries. Australia, the United States and Great Britain formed
organizations like ours after our creation.
Our Canadian programs have achieved international acclaim and many countries
around the world use our model. In fact, recently one of our programs was
translated into Korean. Unfortunately, it seems that other countries are better
equipped to service their citizens using our programs than we can here in
The U. S. National Center on Physical Activity and Disability is able to make
a huge difference because of the multi- million dollar support and leadership it
receives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United
States also has the Americans with Disabilities Act, which legislates change.
While Canada has been seen as a world leader in the area of disability and
human rights, I believe we have much to learn from other countries in the area
of sport and recreation.
I will leave the committee with three recommendations. I recommend that
Canada take the signing of the UN convention seriously and regain its stature as
an international leader for its commitment to the wellness of Canadians with
disability through physical activity, sport and recreation. I recommend that the
Government of Canada invest comparable leadership and funding into the area of
physical activity and recreation as is now being invested into sport, because
only a very small fraction of Canadians with disability reach the Paralympic
podium. I recommend that physical activity, sport and recreation be coordinated
under one federal ministry to ensure a natural progression from the playground
to the podium.
John Willson, Chief Executive Officer, Variety Village: We are
absolutely delighted to be invited here today. I am John Willson, Chief
Executive Officer of Variety Village, and I am here with my colleague Archie
Allison, Director of Outreach and Education. We appreciate this opportunity to
speak before this committee with respect to Variety Village and our view of
developing opportunities for children and youth participating in sports and
Variety Village is 168,000-square-foot sports and fitness facility in the
east end of Toronto, which features a 76,000- square-foot field house and an
extensive aquatics facility. Variety Village is a world recognized authority,
providing integrated sports, fitness, and life skills and learning programs that
impact lives and strengthen communities. Variety Village empowers individuals of
all ages and abilities by providing accessible, safe, inclusive and adapted
fitness and sports through facilitations, skills transfer and training. Our
impact also extends well beyond the walls of Variety Village.
Through our outreach programs, we provide opportunity for people with
disabilities throughout the province and across Canada to participate in
fitness, sports, educational and rehabilitation activities. No other new or
retrofitted facility offers the same range of options for adapted physical
activity that can rival Variety Village. When combined with the accumulated
knowledge and experience gained as an industry pioneer, Variety Village remains
as unique today as it was at its inception.
Variety Village offers inclusive programs for both able bodied and persons
with disabilities, both those with physical disabilities, regardless of cause,
and developmental or learning disabilities. Programs offered today include
children's programs, such as outreach awareness, education, teams, camps,
swimming, recreation, Fitness Friends, the Lieutenant Governor's Games and the
Toronto Police Children's Games. Adults and seniors are served through our LINKS
program, Active Aging, rehabilitation, recreation and teams.
Including our many community service programs, Variety Village reached over
37,000 individuals, 31,000 of whom were children and youth, in 2010, and over
one-half of those had disabilities. These programs deliver, on a cost- effective
basis, service to Ontario in the areas of health, education and sport, well in
excess of the $5 million annual operating budget of the facility. There are many
more unmet needs that we can economically and effectively meet.
Current transformative initiatives include the development of rehabilitation
programs for stroke and cardiac, in partnership with area hospitals, and
programs for children focusing on the benefits of recreation for autism. In all,
over 2,000 children and youth with a disability enjoy regular physical activity
at Variety Village.
If we assume an under-25 age population in Toronto of approximately 1
million, 5 per cent of whom have a disability, 50,000 children and youth in
Toronto have a disability. Given the appalling Canadian average of 3 per cent of
children with disabilities having regular physical activity, Variety Village has
a material impact on the national average, and this activity rate can be greatly
increased with focused funding.
As for sports, our sports programs include, in addition to extensive
recreational programs for our more than 6,000 fitness club members, a fully
inclusive grassroots-to-elite team program in seven sports, involving over 450
children, with youth with disabilities forming the majority on a number of
Over the years, Variety Village athletes have earned an impressive haul of
medals at national and international sporting events. Most recently, at Beijing,
our athletes won medals in track, aquatics and wheelchair basketball events.
These dedicated and gifted athletes represent the most talented of our graduates
of our grassroots programs. However, in general, the grassroots program for
disabled athletes in Canada is broken, as the funding focus has shifted to the
elite performers. Without adequate funding at the grassroots level, programs
will remain small.
Increasing the number of children and youth in grassroots sports programs has
a number of benefits. A child playing a sport derives socialization, health and
physical involvement benefits. Increasing the number of participants at this
level will likely lead to the identification of a greater number of elite
performers. This fits into the Long-Term Athlete Development model. Regardless
of the outcome with respect to the performance of the grassroots athlete, these
individuals will be predisposed to continuing with sport, recreation and the
``fit for life'' paradigm.
Variety Village is developing a five-year plan to greatly increase
participation by youth with a disability at the grassroots level and, by
extension, develop high-performance athletes. The program is dependent on higher
direct funding and includes facilities improvement, financial support programs
for disadvantaged youth and families, identification of potential high
performing athletes, improved coaching, and an awareness campaign in the
disability community with respect to the existence of Variety Village and its
Given the existing accessible facility and our track record of success at
developing athletes, we believe we can deliver the benefits of program in a very
cost-effective way. A lifelong involvement in sports and recreational activity
has many benefits, not the least of which is a well-documented reduction in
health care costs.
Money is being funnelled into sports and disabled sports, but we believe it
could be better used. The federal government has made a serious commitment to
Canadian sports. For example, the Canadian Paralympic Committee will receive $5
million annually for each of the next five years. The Pan/Parapan American
Games' Organization Committee has received $500 million from the federal
government. These funds flow to elite athletes and are very necessary. In times
of fiscal restraint, they demonstrate a real determination to deliver superior
results. However, the development of elite athletes is closely linked to the
development of a broad pool of younger grassroots athletes. In the area of
development of athletes with a disability, additional focus on developmental
training needs is necessary. In order to free up funding for grassroots
development, we should review the intended spending of already committed funds
to ensure they are being spent in the most effective way.
I understand that there will be two Pan Am Games — one for able-bodied
athletes and one for disabled athletes. Leaving aside the non-inclusive nature
of this arrangement, duplicating the ceremonies of the Pan Am Games consumes
financial assets that could be spent on the long-term development of disabled
athletes by investing in grassroots programs. There may be other economies
within established funding programs that could also be examined.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to present our perspectives to you.
Senator Ataullahjan: Do you have a model for community-based
initiatives? Do you know what works best? How are the communities involved in
giving input to ensure these initiatives match their needs? Do you engage all
the members of the community?
Ms. Arkell: We have always had the motto that we think locally and act
globally. We very much include our communities. We are organized in every
province and territory. In turn, they have organizations that deliver community
projects. We are truly a national network and an alliance in that we work
collaboratively and we feed off different disability groups. It is done by
consensus and collaboration.
Jason Dunkerley, Program Coordinator, Active Living Alliance for Canadians
with a Disability: We have a program at the Active Living Alliance that I
have been involved with for almost three years. It is called All Abilities
Welcome. As the title might suggest, the goal of the program is to encourage
community physical activity leaders to open their doors to people of all
abilities and all disabilities. We try to support and encourage recreational
providers and physical activity leaders to facilitate inclusive programs and to
allow youth to feel supported through inclusion.
We also try to empower people with a disability to get out and take advantage
of active living opportunities and to know where the inclusive programs are
being offered. We develop resources to support that inclusion and have speakers
all across the country who deliver awareness-training workshops. One of the ways
we do that is by having focus groups in communities across Canada. We are really
trying to bring together recreational leaders, people with disabilities, parents
and all the people involved. We think it is an issue of group involvement; it is
not just about the person with a disability or about the recreation provider, it
is about the whole team.
We have speakers who talk about various strategies. More than anything else,
these workshops provide a networking opportunity for people to break the ice. We
think that goes a long way in overcoming stigmas and building pathways for
people to talk to one another, and to learn about each other and about
Mr. Willson: In terms of community-based initiatives, our greatest
impact in the community is in the outreach program where we introduce over
14,000 students in primary and high schools to give them a greater awareness of
disability and adapted sports.
Archie Allison, Director, Outreach and Education, Variety Village: Our
community initiatives were built on the needs and interests of parents and
educators across Ontario. The feedback we received from educators was that they
lacked the proper experience and training to offer to students with disabilities
in the community or school programs. The Ability in Action Program was designed
to meet those needs for the children fitting in academically but who were not
involved in physical activity during recess, lunch or after school.
Senator Kochhar: Mr. Willson, why do you think youth with disabilities
are not more widely involved in sports?
In recognizing that getting funding is a challenge, what are the impacts on
your ability to grow and sustain grassroots and team sports programs under the
current funding situation?
You indicated that your budget is $5 million and you are able to raise maybe
$2 million or $3 million. Where would you get the extra money to keep operating?
Mr. Willson: Thank you, Senator Kochhar.
We look at why youth with disabilities are not as heavily involved. Depending
on the disability, there is an extreme shortage of accessible and inclusive
facilities. Variety Village is fortunate in that it is generally accessible and
we do have a significant amount of adapted equipment.
We also have developed programs to attract young people to come to Variety
Village. We do fall a little short in the promotion and publicity of the
opportunities the kids have to come here.
Another huge stumbling block is the financial aspect for the family. Although
having a child with a disability is often emotionally rewarding, it presents a
significant financial burden that families who do not have children with
disabilities do not bear.
Finally, the problems with transportation can keep people away. It is a very
expensive and difficult problem.
Your second question concerns the impact of low funding. If the low funding
situation continues, we cannot grow our athletic opportunities for youth and
children. While the programs are not inherently more costly, the financial
problem to which I referred necessitates some sort of a subsidy for families
with children with disabilities. That stands in the way of greater participation
and, as long as that is the case, it will stand in the way of growing the
Your last question was about the funding of Variety Village. Out of
necessity, we have a general fitness club facility which, as well as promoting
inclusion, earns approximately $2 million of our annual budget. An additional
approximately $1 million is brought in through Mr. Allison's outreach programs
and through certain charitable donations and events. Additional fundraising
brings in approximately another $750,000. However, we have a built-in funding
gap ranging from $1 million to $2 million annually that must be overcome in
order for us, first, to be sustainable; second, to live in a long-term planning
situation; and third, literally to continue operation.
Senator Marshall: Ms. Arkell, you said that in the late 1980s we were
leaders in our field. I worked with the provincial government in Newfoundland
and Labrador at that time, and our province was recognized as a leader in the
field. We had visitors from other countries who wanted to see what we were
Like you, I have a sense that we have slipped over the last two decades. How
do you measure that? For example, there are usually formal studies done to
compare health services provided in different countries. Is that also done for
services for people with special needs, or is it more based on feelings as
opposed to actual studies?
How are we doing now? You said the slippage was in the 1990s. Are we getting
back in the race now or are we still behind?
Ms. Arkell: To clarify, in the 1980s and 1990s we were world leaders,
but currently we are far behind.
We are world leaders in many situations around disability. For example, a
couple of years ago I was on secondment for a year with the Office for
Disability Issues. I had the opportunity to organize an accessibility showcase
in Beijing at the Paralympics with Senator Jim Munson, which was an amazing
We have some great things happening for people with disabilities with regard
to economics and employment. We have the Enabling Accessibility Fund and the
Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities.
We are falling behind in the areas of sport and recreation, particularly for
the masses with disabilities who do not want to pursue the Paralympic podium but
want to be active and healthy, have fun and reap the benefits of socialization,
To my knowledge, there is no study that compares countries to each other.
However, we are involved with the International Federation of Adapted Physical
Activity, which is a world body. We see countries doing great things that we do
not have the capacity to continue.
A very good example is that from 2000 until 2008 we ran a national youth
exchange, which was an amazing program. We chose 75 to 100 youth from across
Canada with the assistance of Exchanges Canada, corporate sponsorships and
government assistance. The youth came to Ottawa for a week and lived at Carleton
University. We had as many volunteers as we had youth, and over the course of
the week they learned different sports and physical activities that they had not
To go back to Senator Kochhar's question of why more youth are not involved
in sports, maybe it is because they have not tried it, it is not available in
their communities or their parents are very cautious because they are concerned
that they will get hurt.
When those youth returned to their communities, they had new athletic skills,
dreams and hopes, and some of them got into the Paralympic movement. We also
spent a lot of time on leadership skills. They talked about bullying, self-
esteem, body image and harassment, and they learned how to go back and tell
their mayor or school principal that they belong and need to be able to do more
than keep score in Phys. Ed. or be sent to the library.
Returning to why Canada is behind, in our opinion the physical
activity/healthy living side of the house is so minimal that it has no impact
for Canadians with disabilities. We call on the government to examine putting
sport and fitness back together, the way it was after the Fitness and Amateur
Sport Act of the 1970s, which worked very well. We went from playground to
podium. Mr. Dunkerley decided to go the whole nine yards and become a Paralympic
athlete, but many do not.
Senator Marshall: Is the issue funding, something other than funding,
or a combination of things? Sometimes there is funding for programs, but it
seems that the people in control cannot quite get it together.
Ms. Arkell: I would say it is a combination, one aspect being federal
leadership. Sport Canada has amazing leadership and a real commitment. What
which they have developed for athletes without disabilities they have developed
for athletes with disabilities. On the health promotion side of the house, the
Public Health Agency of Canada's Physical Activity Contribution Program, which
is now called the Healthy Living Fund, at one time provided funding of $12
million to $14 million. This year they are funding one project for $800,000 and
we will receive $10,000 out of that project. In past years, we received $500,000
from the Healthy Living Fund.
There is no leadership. There is no goal for where that should go. We know
that the more that Canadians with disabilities are inactive, the bigger the
health care costs will be. Canadians with disabilities go to doctors more and
have secondary disabling conditions. Diabetes and disability are very closely
related. We have a huge crisis, in our opinion.
Senator Marshall: What about the non-profit organizations? The
Canadian Paraplegic Association and the Canadian Association for Community
Living are active in Newfoundland and Labrador. A number of organizations
provide support and resources to people with disabilities. Where do they fit
into all of this? Are they active as they were in the 1980s and 1990s?
Ms. Arkell: All of those organizations you have mentioned are part of
our partnership, which we are proud to have. While physical activity and sport
is not part of their mandate, they see it as a step; if someone is more
physically active, they are more employable and are better educated.
Where are they? I cannot speak for them, but they would receive more social
service funding as opposed to sport recreation funding.
Mr. Willson: I think it is generally right that it is a financial
numbers game. Obviously, with more funding, properly monitored and spent, you
should get a better outcome. I do not have the experience that Ms. Arkell has,
being a relative newcomer to this space, but it is clear to me that the needs of
people with disabilities are something that must be addressed with greater
Senator Andreychuk: Mr. Willson, you make a compelling case for
Variety Village and for the effort that you have put in it, the money you have
received and the difficulties that you face. The Senate is a federal body. I
come from Saskatchewan. We have some interesting and excellent facilities that I
think are helping people in Saskatchewan. Where do you see the federal role in
this issue? Your case seemed to me to be more an Ontario comment about more
funds, long-term funding within a particular area, Toronto, and perhaps drawing
from a further area. How would you advise this committee, when we are looking to
federal policies and practices? How do we buy into your case, bearing in mind
that it is replicated from province to province and territory to territory, and
some of the most compelling cases to me are in the North? Should the funding
come from the provincial or municipal base, or are you trying to make a new case
for federal funding?
Mr. Willson: There are three levels of government funding. I believe
that all three levels should participate. We have had very generous support from
the Province of Ontario, not in a sustaining way but in a rescuing way over the
past four or five years.
I think the case for federal funding is that we do not have a monopoly on
knowledge of program development. Certainly, the rate of regular physical
activity nationally at 3 per cent is higher in Toronto by virtue of the
existence of Variety Village.
We feel that we can develop a knowledge base that could be transferred across
the country to any accessible facility with the appropriate attributes. We also
have the knowledge of how to create those facilities; Mr. Allison happens to be
a particular specialist, extremely knowledgeable in that respect.
I foresee, on a national basis, almost a national alliance of organizations
that works with providing adapted physical education and recreational
opportunities for people with disabilities. Such an alliance would provide some
assurance that we are delivering the very best that we, as Canadians as a whole,
could create and deliver.
I am familiar with the Steadward Centre in Edmonton — they are very
knowledgeable in this area — and if we developed a training paradigm that could
assure that people working with people with disabilities across the country
would be using the best available techniques and methods, it would be beneficial
to all Canadians.
It has to start somewhere. Variety Village does have a focus. We get our
clients with disabilities from Oakville to Oshawa and as far as Barrie, Ontario,
which does encompass approximately 25 per cent of the population of the country.
We deliver something of value to Canada just by working within the largest
metropolitan areas. That does not say that there is not tremendous need in other
When I visit my in-laws in Timmins, Ontario, and see someone with a
disability, I ask how I can develop a program that can be transported and
applied up in Timmins, Ontario. That is a repeatable thing. The work we are
hoping to do in cardiac and stroke rehabilitation would easily apply to any
cardiac and stroke situation across Canada.
Your general point is that health is a provincial matter and that
health-related spending rightly rests here in the province, but developing
national sports teams is a national matter. The development of extensive
grassroots programs, at Variety Village and other facilities, is a national
Senator Ataullahjan: When we talk about youth being involved or not,
how relevant is the economic status of the family?
Ms. Arkell: Having a disability is very expensive and on top of that,
club fees and equipment are very expensive. There are places where youth can
raise funds, such as local service clubs and the Canadian Paralympic Committee
has an equipment program available for some athletes.
Having a disability is very costly in this country. We know that a huge
number of families who have a family member with a disability live in poverty
because of the costs involved with the disability.
Senator Kochhar: Most of the federal programs that we have are geared
towards elite sports. We have given $5 million a year for five years at $25
million and we have given $500 million for the Parapan American Games. We also
gave a lot of money to the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
However, as Mr. Willson pointed out, we have not paid much attention to a
grassroots national organization to develop physical activity for youth with a
disability. The few programs we offer have not been well advertised. I am
speaking on behalf of the federal government; people around the country do not
know what programs are available.
In your opinion, what is the top priority for the federal government to get
involved in? Is it to advertise what is available? Is it to find out where
federal money can be more effectively used? For example, in the Pan American and
the Parapan American Games, we could save about $250 million if we combined
events as they did at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. We do not have
to have two opening ceremonies and two closing ceremonies. If we combined all of
those things, we can utilize that $200 to $300 million in a grassroots
disability fund for sports and health issues.
Ms. Arkell: That is fabulous. We were created to be that national
network and to share what is happening across the country, such as through
grassroots programs, with different disability groups learning from each other,
different sport groups learning from each other, helping coaches in the
community to include someone with a disability. It does exist, but it is badly
My suggestion is to invest in the whole healthy living and health promotion
sector. Disability is a huge aspect, but the whole sector itself is dying.
Organizations have died. It is not just the federal government, but certainly,
there is responsibility there to maintain priority groups and physical activity,
and it is not there right now.
We argue that with the exception of culture, disability has very similar
characteristics to the Aboriginal population, those being isolation, education
and poverty. How much does this government invest in Aboriginal people and how
much does it invest in the health of Canadian with a disability? Apples and
My suggestion is for there to be public will around the area of wellness for
people with disabilities through healthy, active living. The Paralympic podium
will be natural if we build more at the base, more will flow to the top.
Senator Kochhar: Have you ever made a presentation to the federal
government about what programs they can develop through the sports ministry and
other ministries to do that?
Ms. Arkell: Yes. We have ongoing meetings with the Public Health
Agency of Canada. We are planning to do some joint programs, partnerships with
the Canadian Paralympic Committee, which is starting joint presentations. We are
already in the schools, communities and clubs. Mr. Dunkerley is the person
spearheading the organization doing presentations. He has over 100 leaders and
we are doing these presentations on a shoestring budget. You would not believe
how far a very small investment goes in the not-for-profit world.
Mr. Dunkerley: In addition to working at the Active Living Alliance
for Canadians with a Disability, I also compete as a high-performance athlete
and have seen the investment in federal support towards high-performance sport,
and it has been fantastic. All of the athletes, including me, applaud the
government for the huge commitment of federal funding to sport and
high-performance athletes. That is starting to have a direct impact.
Over the last three years at the Active Living Alliance with the All
Abilities Welcome program, I have seen how much we are hurting when it comes to
grassroots development, and it takes me back to my own early development in
running. I have been very fortunate that teachers, physical activity leaders,
coaches and guide runners supported me all the way through my development.
Now, competing on the national team — I have been around for a little while —
there are not a lot of people coming up behind us. That is very concerning
because it really points to the lack of grassroots development. A lot of it has
to do with environment, talking about why youth with disabilities are not as
active. Without that encouragement and without people to facilitate their
development, it does not happen on its own. That is what our All Abilities
Welcome program attempts to do; it encourages leaders to encourage young people
with a disability and all people with a disability to lead an active lifestyle,
whether it is taking the dog for a walk, running marathons and anything in
The federal government has an important role to play in having political
will. A lot of it can happen through federal- provincial-territorial
collaboration. I think the federal government can take a real lead and drive
Lastly, talking about the Parapan American Games and the Pan American Games,
the 2011 Halifax Canada Games used a neat model where athletes with a disability
were included or embedded as part of the games. So many great things come about
from that inclusion. It is great in terms of the athletes with the disability;
it is social inclusion, it is the chance to be involved in those games and it is
fantastic for the other young able-bodied people competing in those games, youth
and young adult. It does so much to promote disability awareness and social
The Deputy Chair: Mr. Willson, would you like to add anything to that
Mr. Willson: No, I think they have covered it extremely well. Mr.
Dunkerley has a tremendous record and history as a Paralympic athlete, and I
think his points about people not coming up behind are well taken.
The Ontario flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies was a young fellow named
Shayne Smith, who is a very talented and determined young man on our wheelchair
basketball team. He benefited from the inclusion, and I am sure anyone who meets
Shayne Smith would benefit immediately from just meeting him and getting to know
him better. That is all I would like to add.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you. Ms. Arkell, I did not quite understand
your comment about what we spend on Aboriginal people, and I am concerned about
it. Can you clarify your comment, please?
Ms. Arkell: We just feel that many of the characteristics are similar
in terms of the determinants of health, and yet there is quite a large
investment in health promotion with the Aboriginal population and their health;
however, there is not the same investment for those with a disability in the
whole area of health promotion.
The Deputy Chair: Why would you just pick on the Aboriginal people?
There are other communities that get funding as well.
Ms. Arkell: I am sorry; I did not mean to appear to pick on them. My
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much. We appreciate your presence
here today and we appreciate Mr. Willson also participating. Your input today
will assist us in our deliberations.
As you know, we are the Human Rights Committee, so we are looking at this
from the perspective of human rights. I am sure we will be contact with you in
the future as to how our report progresses. Thank you very much for your
presence here today.
(The committee adjourned.)