The Current

Minister Carla Qualtrough says Canada's new disability act will 'make history'

Canada's top politician in charge of disability issues Carla Qualtrough knows her file, inside and out. The federal minister joins The Current to talk about her quest to make history by drafting a national accessibility law — the first of its kind.
'I am the exception to the rule. I am not the rule,' says disability minister Carla Qualtrough on being a successful person with a disability. (LPC)

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Carla Qualtrough is the first-ever federal minister of sport and persons with disabilities. She tells The Current's special guest host Ing Wong-Ward that her appointment to Prime MInister Justin Trudeau's cabinet as a legally blind person is "sending a strong signal to Canadians just how important disability and accessibility issues are to our government."

"I think we do some things really well here in Canada and I think in other areas we have work to be done," Qualtrough tells Wong-Ward.

Minister Qualtrough has been travelling across the country for an ongoing national public consultation on creating new Canadian accessibility legislation — the first of its kind in Canadian history. And while she's honoured by the work she has been asked to do, "I certainly feel the weight of the responsibility."

She says Canada can do better in terms of creating real meaningful change for those with disabilities.

"We have strong attitudes around inclusion and equity...but sometimes that doesn't translate into opportunity for Canadians."

Carla Qualtrough is Canada's minister of sport and persons with disabilities. (Adrian Wyld/CP )

Qualtrough highlights the importance of proactive legislation instead of reactive ones that come after a barrier has already interfered with somebody's life.

"Systemically there's a huge onus or burden on individuals to pursue more systematic complaints," Qualtrough tells Wong-Ward.

"If I see a barrier in a bank for example, you know, it's a barrier that anyone with my disability would face but it's up to me to pursue it."

She says it takes a long time to identify the barrier before the system can make it better. 

"I'm hoping that some proactive legislation will allow organizations and government to go into that bank before it gets to the point of exclusion."

Qualtrough emphasized that disability is not just physical, and that it's "broader than physical access."

Wong-Ward asked Minister Qualtrough what she was doing to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities.

"We're not typical in that we have jobs, good paying jobs," Wong-Ward tells Qualtrough.

"We are two women with our families of our own. I, like you, am a parent. I wonder how do we shift things so that more people with disabilities can have the same opportunities, so we're not outliers a generation from now?"

"We are lucky, but we're in the minority," responds Qualtrough.

"It's a question that weighs heavily on me more regularly than I care to admit."

"I'm convinced we're going to make history here."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins.