HALIFAX – Pat Gates may not be able to see the candidates running in the election but she is certainly listening carefully to what they are saying about disabilities.
Gates is visually impaired and has been since the mid-1980s. She currently works with the Halifax chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind.
The legally blind woman was one of about 100 people who packed a room in Halifax Tuesday night for an all-party forum on disability issues.
“I want to find out what they’re going to do to support persons with disabilities,” Gates said.
In particular, Gates hopes the winning government provides more funding for technical aids and devices, such as hearing aids and white canes.
“If they have them for their daily lives, they can have an education. If they get an education, hopefully that will help them get a job,” she said.
Forum organizer Sherry Costa, also executive director of Independent Living Nova Scotia, says the political parties need to recognize the voting power of those with disabilities.
“We want the candidates to realize the disability community, of which 20 percent of this population has a disability of some kind, that we are united. We don’t want our voices to go unheard,” Costa said.
Other issues attendees brought up included accessibility, affordable housing and easier access to services.
“Affordable housing is extremely limited here in the city,” said Darrell Robar with the Canadian Paraplegic Association of Nova Scotia.
Robar has been in a wheelchair for about 30 years after a car accident in the Annapolis Valley.
“You can’t function above and beyond where you’re at…if you don’t have a place to live. If you don’t have a good, accessible place to live then you’re not functioning and living to your full capacity,” he said.
Margaret Murray works with the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
She believes disability issues needs to be a higher priority on the agenda of candidates.
“We really need commitments to the mental health addictions strategy, to the chronic under-funding of mental health addictions services,” Murray said.
“People also need to have access to mental health services in a timely fashion so people can work on their recovery. That is certainly a major concern for us,” she said.
As the three candidates laid out their party platforms, many ears were tuned to what they were saying. But Robar hopes the words are not empty promises.
“I really get a feeling a lot of the times [that] all political parties talk the talk, it’s difficult to walk the walk,” he said.
“It’s the action that comes later that really means a lot. That’s what [will show] exactly where the heart is of all of these political parties.”