December 3 is the International Day for Persons with Disability. This year’s theme is “Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era.” PSAC recognizes December 3 every year and as the Members with Disabilities (MWD or Access) Coordinator for the PSAC BC Region, I am hopeful that members will join me in fighting for disability rights not only on December 3 but every day of the year.
My name is Michael Shane Polak. I was re-elected as PSAC BC’s Access Coordinator in May this past year. My term will continue until the next convention in May of 2023. Since the 2021 convention, I have been working hard with Lea Serron, the Alternate Access Coordinator, and the Access Caucus to further engage PSAC members in the fight for our human rights as people with disabilities.
Several members recently attended the PSAC National Equity Conferences as delegates and observers. The conference was held from November 24 to November 28. The conference’s theme was “Engage, Empower, Unite.” We heard from powerful speakers and took workshops on topics such as Duty to Accommodate and the Federal Accessibility Legislation.
Resolutions debate took place and the highest priority resolution that was voted in concurrence was to have a Regional Members with Disabilities Conference in the next PSAC cycle. Should this resolution pass at the PSAC National Convention in 2022 we can expect to organize for this in the next two years.
In the early fall of this year, we held our first ever post-convention Access Caucus. Our goal was to hear from the Access members who attended the PSAC BC Regional Convention and set priorities for the next two years. Here is what we are planning:
- Up to three Access meetings a year for BC Region, with an agenda provided in advance of each meeting.
- Adjusting and advancing mental health training for stewards and members.
- Additional Duty to Accommodate and Return to Work Training.
- The creation of a private network for those who are comfortable with doing so, such as a WhatsApp group.
- Creating and delivering regular updates in a newsletter.
- Inviting speakers on disability issues to present to our meetings.
- The preparation of resolutions for debate at regional and national conventions.
- An ask for the Access Coordinator to be present at Human Rights Meetings outside of the Lower Mainland.
This International Day for Persons with Disability is where continue our work on the impacts of Covid-19 and its variants on our lives. In 2020 we began that work by raising awareness in many forums including a town hall sponsored by the New Westminster and District Labour Council. Part of any response to this fight is to ensure that those of us with physical and or mental wellness challenges are not left behind.
As persons with disabilities, we know what it is to be alone. The pandemic has acerbated loneliness with the lockdowns and isolations that protect us from harm and danger. In British Columbia, we have been affected also by the weather with fires in the summer and floods now in the fall. These events are challenges we need to face and overcome.
We need to find solutions and this work will not be easy. I intend to continue to lobby to bring psychology visits into the BC Medical Services Plan so that anyone who needs help can get it. The only coverage in the mental health realm is with psychiatry and not psychology. For those who need a psychiatrist, the issues are two-fold: 1) There is a critical shortage of psychiatrists in BC and especially outside of the lower mainland and 2) psychiatrists are great for watching the medications they prescribe but not that great at counseling.
Counseling is a critical piece of the mental wellness puzzle. Therefore, BC needs to help those with mental wellness issues by supplying psychological counseling as a medical benefit. The lobby must continue so that no one is left behind.
December 3 is also where I ask that we remember those who are suffering from illness or who have passed directly or indirectly from their disability in the past year. Let us offer each other support and strength during these difficult times.
Michael Shane Polak
PSAC BC Regional Council