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Towards a barrier free society: Grassroots disability politics in B.C.

Image: Modified for use in this post and used with the permission of the BC Disability Caucus.

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Paul Gilbert and Margo Bok. They are involved in the B.C. Disability Caucus, a group whose work has spanned the range from online education and discussion to mobilizing people into the streets to get disability issues on the public agenda in British Columbia.

Gilbert currently serves as the group's media spokesperson. Bok is a regular contributor, including of original articles in which she combines research and analysis of disability issues that are mostly ignored in the mainstream. They speak about some of the key issues facing disabled people in the province, and about what their group has been doing to address them.

According to today's guests, there are multiple ways in which the struggle for disability rights in Canada lags behind many other countries. It's not only that governments have so far failed to take many of the most obvious steps that disabled people and their allies identify as necessary for addressing the barriers, poverty, and injustice that they face. It's also that there just isn't the same density of grassroots groups focused on disability as there is in the U.S. or the U.K., for instance, and substantive coverage of disability issues in the mainstream media in Canada is sporadic and often not very well done.

Gilbert and Bok have taken a number of approaches to working for disability rights over the years. For awhile, Gilbert had a focus on traditional lobbying – meeting with government ministers, particularly at the provincial level in British Columbia, and with other politicians. That didn't seem to be getting anywhere, so he joined the political party in power in B.C. at the time and worked to set up a formally recognized disability caucus within the party. That was ultimately successful, but once the caucus was in place he again came face to face with the serious limits to what such a body could actually achieve, within the constraints of the institution. He needed a new approach and, he said, "It had to be disability first rather than any party first."

To that end, they decided that the way to go was to make use of social media, but to go beyond how many groups use it. The B.C. Disability Caucus has a Facebook page at its centre, but it is also a group with an active core of contributors that is managing not only to build consciousness of crucial disability issues, but to promote dialogue among disabled people about their needs, put together demands from that ongoing dialogue, present these demands to governments, raise the profile of disability issues in conventional media, support other kinds of human rights struggles, and – from time to time – get people protesting in the streets.

Image: Modified for use in this post and used with the permission of the B.C. Disability Caucus.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

Talking Radical Radio has been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award. If you like the show, please vote for Scott Neigh under the category of "Best Journalist – Social Justice and Human Rights" before November 8!

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