[nfbwatlk] Deaf-blind woman tests Canada's equality guarantee, The Star, July 29 2014

Mike Freeman k7uij at panix.com
Wed Aug 6 18:23:06 UTC 2014

This could be either a good or a bad precedent. I confess that I am uneasy.
Do we really want it set in case law that we people with disabilities can't
cut it on a basis of equality with the sighted and must of right be accorded
special arrangements or extra time beyond those offered to able-bodied
members of society? By this, I'm not questioning our fight for accessible
coursework, tests and/or other arrangements needed to complete degrees,
exams, certifications, etc. But where do we draw the line? And can we truly
maintain that we can compete on a basis of equality if we also maintain we
need extra time?

Dr. Jernigan used to ably point out that one can't have one's cake and eat
it, too.

Of course, the deaf should be accorded the opportunity to chart their own
course. But I fear me greatly that the public will become even more confused
than it already is and will believe deep-down that we, the blind, can't
truly compete without special perks.

Is that what we really want?

Just some morning musings before lunch.

Mike Freeman

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Subject: [nfbwatlk] Deaf-blind woman tests Canada's equality guarantee, The
Star, July 29 2014


Deaf-blind woman tests Canada's equality guarantee Jasmin Simpson, who is
deaf and blind, says it's unfair that she had to pay 60 per cent more than
non-disabled university students for the same education.

Jasmin Simpson, 39, overcame her deafness, her blindness and her lupus, to
earn a master's degree in social work.
By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist, Published on Tue Jul 29 2014

The government of Canada can outmuscle, outspend and outlast Jasmin Simpson.
But it can't deflect her from her goal.

Simpson, 39, is deaf, blind and has lupus, which causes her immune system to
attack healthy cells - skin, joints, organs, blood vessels. She overcame
these formidable challenges to earn a master's degree in social work at
Gallaudet University<http://www.gallaudet.edu/about_gallaudet.html> in
Washington, D.C., the only liberal arts university designed exclusively for
deaf and hard-of-hearing students. She now works as a counsellor at the
Canadian Hearing Society<http://www.chs.ca/about-canadian-hearing-society>.

But her education was costly. Because of her disabilities, it took her eight
years instead of the usual five to complete her two degrees. (Deaf students
normally take one-and-a-half to two times as long as hearing students taking
identical courses.) She graduated with a student debt 60 per cent higher
than a non-disabled student.

That didn't seem fair to Simpson. So she launched a charter challenge,
claiming that the Canada Student Loan
Program<http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/goc/cslp.shtml> violates the
constitutionally enshrined
guarantee<http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/page-15.html> that "every
individual has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the
law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based
on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or
physical disability."

The case began seven years ago. Initially, the government seemed eager to
set things right. It offered to forgive Simpson's entire $71,000 student
debt - not just the 60 per cent she considered discriminatory - and amend
the Canada Student Loan Program, provided she waive her right to go to

The offer was tempting, but Simpson responded warily. She asked her lawyer,
David Baker<http://www.bakerlaw.ca/david-baker/>, to seek a conditional
agreement. If the changes in the program met her concerns, she would accept
Ottawa's settlement and terminate the lawsuit.

Regrettably, they did not. The modest reforms proposed by the Department of
Human Resources (now called Employment and Social
Development<http://www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/home.shtml> Canada) came nowhere close
to putting disabled students on an equal footing with their peers. They
would have helped students with mild disabilities. But they did nothing for
those with major impairments. Simpson turned down the money.

Federal lawyers were stunned. They made a second offer: The government would
erase Simpson's entire student debt plus interest and cover her legal fees.
Her answer was still no.

After that, things got nasty. Two days before Christmas of 2010, she
received a letter from Ottawa. "The department now takes the position that
the matter is settled," it said. Ottawa followed up with a motion to the
Ontario Superior Court to close Simpson's case.

Backed by about 30 members of Toronto's deaf community, she
igh_price_of_being_a_trailblazer.html> the department's arbitrary action and
won. Ever since then, she has been waiting for her day in court. It has been
frustrating; each time the case is scheduled to proceed, federal lawyers ask
for a delay to search for more documents, get approval for expert witnesses
or deal with internal difficulties.

The trial was slated to begin this fall, but federal lawyers said they
needed until the end of August to gather evidence, after which pre-trial
cross-examination would occur. Baker, her lawyer, is dubious that the
government will keep its word.

"In fairness, the case is important, so each side wants to ensure it has the
evidence required to win," he says. "That said, we've told the government
that our client's patience is at an end and it must meet the August deadline
or we will get a case management judge appointed."

In one of the few strokes of good luck in her life, Simpson's application
for the Court Challenges program<http://www.ccppcj.ca/e/ccp.shtml> (which
allowed individuals facing discrimination to test their equality rights in
court without running up massive legal bills) was approved before Prime
Minister Stephen Harper abolished the program. Cases already in the system
were grandfathered.

Nevertheless it will require sacrifice on her part and her lawyer's part to
stay the course. She will have to take time off work, tell her story in
court (through a sign-language interpreter), undergo grilling by government
lawyers and handle the stress. Baker will be paid less than the Ontario
legal rate to represent her. Both are determined to press ahead.

As she waits for the trial, Simpson is whittling down her student debt and
helping other deaf Canadians surmount the barriers she faced. But she cannot
rest until a court of law affirms that no one with disability in this
country can be penalized - financially or otherwise - for needing extra
time, extra help or extra support to reach his or her potential.

In a country that honoured its trailblazers, Simpson would be regarded as an
example of courage and tenacity in the face of adversity. In Canada circa
2014, she must fight her own government for justice.

Carol Goar's column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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