Absent Citizens: Disability Politics and Policy in Canada


296 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9630-2
DDC 305.9'080971




Reviewed by Paul G. Thomas

Paul G. Thomas is a political science professor at the University of
Manitoba and the co-author of Canadian Public Administration:
Problematical Perspectives.


This important, scholarly book examines the place of persons with disabilities in Canadian society from a political and public policy perspective. It is both original and comprehensive in its coverage of the politics of disability issues. As such, the book is a must read for activists in disability organizations, for policy makers in government and for instructors and students in disability courses.

The title refers to the fact that disabled peoples have been largely absent from both the theory of social rights and the political process. Disabilities, social inequalities and isolation, it is argued, are more socially and politically constructed than they are biologically determined. Three broad challenges face the disabled: a lack of cultural recognition, the need for meaningful social and economic resources and opportunities, and the availability of channels of representation in the political process. Persons with disabilities face barriers of discrimination, unemployment, poverty and even violence which are far greater than those confronted by most Canadians. In short, both as individuals and as a group the disabled lack social, economic and political power within society. These themes are developed in nine chapters of meticulous scholarship which draws upon an extensive and diverse range of sources. The chapters examine such themes as the mainstreaming of disability issues, the makeup of the disability community and their participation in both the electoral and the ongoing policy processes. The final chapter deals with policy record of Canadian governments at all levels and offers an agenda for reform. “Canada’s record on disability reform” the author writes, “includes policy successes and setbacks, political spin and program substance.”

His informed and balance conclusion is that a significant gap still exists between the official rhetoric of inclusion and the lived realities for many persons with disabilities which is exclusion. The starting point for more meaningful reform would be the adoption of a national disability act which would provide recognition and leverage for the disabled when they lobby for their rights and programs before all levels of government.


Prince, Michael J., “Absent Citizens: Disability Politics and Policy in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/32687.