Thoughts About “Voluntary”

Voluntary: done, acting, or able to act, of one’s own free will; not constrained or compulsory; intentional. From the Latin, voluntas: will, free will, choice.

When someone says, “I volunteer in my community”, you might not know the specifics, but there are five concepts embedded in that simple statement. First, they are taking some form of action. Second, it is a positive thing they are doing. Third, they are acting of their own free will. Fourth, they will not be paid. Fifth, they are in control.

When someone says, “It will be voluntary for my community”, you might not know the specifics, but again, there are five concepts embedded in the statement. First, some form of action is happening to them. Second, it is not universally seen as a positive thing. Third, they only have two choices – either do the thing, or don’t – so they are not acting of their own free will. Fourth, there will be a cost. Fifth, they are not in control.

Volunteer and voluntary; two similar words with the same Latin derivation, but having very different meanings. One is universally positive, the other is often a trojan horse designed to be readily accepted while hiding ill intent or negative consequences.

The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) is developing a service dog team standard that could become a National Standard of Canada. (Refer to our report entitled “A Failed Process” to learn more about the process that was followed up to September 2017). They have emphasized that the standard would be voluntary. In a recent conversation with officials from the Accessibility Secretariat (a unit within Employment and Social Development Canada), they emphasized that CGSB standards are voluntary. This has become the panacea with CGSB’s standard, but the word, “voluntary”, puts me on edge.

Let us suppose that the voluntary service dog team standard is implemented in the form that was published in the spring of 2017. Let’s follow a typical guide dog user over the course of a day.

Our hero, Ms. X, has a trip planned this weekend. We first learn that a restaurant in Ms. X’s home town has decided to adopt this national standard. On her way to the airport, she enters the restaurant and is turned away because she has no evidence that she and her guide dog comply with the National Standard of Canada. Then, on arriving at the airport, we see that the airline has decided to implement the voluntary standard. Ms. X and her guide dog are not allowed to board the flight because she has not allowed an assessor to enter her home, examine her financial records, and test her dog. She calls for a taxi to take her home, but the cab company has implemented the voluntary standard and each driver at the airport says, “no paperwork, no ride”.

Canadian guide dog users should not be comforted by the idea of a national standard being voluntary. As you can see, the voluntary standard might be voluntary for many, but it would certainly be mandatory for those who sit at the end of the power continuum. And if someone tries to tell guide dog users that the standard would be voluntary for them too, we need a clear and strong indication of what will be the penalty against those who refuse to honour each guide dog users’ choice, and what will be the training process for all police forces in Canada so we can call upon them to enforce our rights.

The CGSB service dog team standard is the result of a failed process. It is ill-conceived, ill-informed, and fraught with problems, not least of which is the claim that it will be voluntary. The standard must be stopped.

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