Six Degrees of Dignity

'It is a Third World reality for people with disability'

- July 20, 2007

Dave Shannon is an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.

Dave Shannon (LLBÕ91) has long been inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela, so itÕs not surprising that they are prominently quoted in his newly-released book, Six Degrees of Dignity: Disability in an Age of Freedom.

ÒTheyÕve been part of creating the framework for freedom that is the ideal for what the book promotes,” Mr. Shannon says. ÒThey have made the connection from the most sophisticated legal analysis to the most concrete needs of an individual who is deprived of the basic needs.”

Mr. Shannon, who has quadriplegia as a result of a rugby accident at age 18, advocates for the rights of people with a disability. He has wheeled some 9,000 kilometres across Canada to raise awareness of the potential of people with a disability, practised in the area of health and civil law, and participated in legal reform.

ÒRight now efforts surrounding disability are not being made in a comprehensive manner and that has resulted in continued appalling levels of poverty, unemployment and abuse visited upon the disability community,” says Mr. Shannon. ÒOther than a very select few Ð and I count myself amongst them Ð it is a Third World reality for people with disability, and theyÕre right in our communities, but itÕs ignored or thought acceptable.”

In his law school days he played a key role in the Dalhousie community Ð a community he was first introduced to in the late 1970s when his father, Bill, was a health education professor at the university. Mr. Shannon served as student union president in 1989-90, and recalls his election to the position as a moment of Òpure elation.”

'Great leap forward'

ÒFor me, my time at Dalhousie was the great leap forward,” says Mr. Shannon, who went on to complete graduate law studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. ÒIt was a leap forward respecting my skills and employability, but also to be part of the Dalhousie community was critical socially.”

The importance of inclusion is underlined in Six Degrees of Dignity (Creative Bound International Inc.), a book Mr. Shannon hopes will encourage discourse and debate. He draws upon his background in law and policy as well as his personal experience to present a framework for achieving equality for people with a disability.

He advocates a holistic approach which encompasses dignity in public perception; dignity in the community, dignity in law, dignity in public policy, dignity of self and dignity in future, which points to the promise of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Mr. Shannon was involved in the drafting of the convention as a representative of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres. He also looks ahead to advocating for a new royal commission on persons with a disability, and a Canadians with disabilities act.

'Just a seed'

He recognizes that change happens over time. In his 1997 cross-country awareness tour, he spoke directly to school, community and corporate groups, and reached many more through media coverage.

Mr. Shannon says he felt a letdown after the tour ended. ÒHaving so intensely promoted that goal, I guess when it was over I had an overwhelming sense of having achieved very little,” he says. ÒThe world had not changed. There were no new policies to point at, no new programs to point at, certainly no new laws, and I had absolutely no clear sense of what the outcomes wereÉ.”

His view of the experience has since changed. ÒI see that during that time where I mistakenly thought that it could be an end in itself, it was just a seed. It was really just the beginning.”


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