Tomorrow marks the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Launched by the United Nations in 1992, the occasion celebrates the contributions of people with disabilities, promotes their rights and well-being, and increases awareness, understanding, and acceptance.
Modern OT recognizes the importance of this day’s message of inclusion, equality, and accessibility for all individuals, and works with clients to help them overcome perceived barriers or biases to remain active in their community.
Generally, disability refers to any condition that makes it more difficult to complete certain activities and interact with the world. While commonly associated with physical needs like using a wheelchair or walker, disability actually involves far more.
According to a 2017 Statistics Canada Survey, there are many different types of disability, such as flexibility, pain-related, learning, mental-health-related, and memory. Many disabilities among these types are not immediately apparent, however, they can still impact daily activities (these are sometimes called hidden or invisible disabilities).
Some people wear a sunflower symbol to discreetly indicate that they have an invisible disability and may need extra time or support. It is important to remember that everyone is different, so we should all learn to avoid judging ability based only on what we see.
Disability in Canada
In Canada, about 1 in 5 people aged 15 years or more manage disabilities. In Ontario, it is about 1 in 4 people. Furthermore, almost everyone is likely to experience a form of disability at some point. This represents the world’s largest minority group, which anyone can join at any time.
Despite the large number of people living with disabilities, many spaces fail to consider accessibility in their design. For example, public areas can be physically inaccessible, workplaces can overlook the cognitive challenges of employees, schools can fail to accommodate different learning styles, and shopping can be difficult for individuals with sensory impairments (especially near the holiday season). These examples represent just a small fraction of the barriers people with disabilities face. At Modern OT, we work to recognize accessibility barriers and actively work to dismantled them.
Living with a disability can also be expensive. According to a 2017 Statistics Canada Survey, 1.6 million Canadians with disabilities were unable to afford the aids, devices, or prescription medication they required due to cost. Additionally, there is a significant gap between those with disabilities and those without in terms of wage, employment, and poverty. That said, many unemployed Canadians living with disabilities do have the potential to work, and employers report being happy with hiring them. More than 75% of employers surveyed by BMO in 2013 said that after recruiting workers with disabilities, the hires met their expectations or exceeded them. The idea that disability negatively affects a person’s capacity to work is a myth that has been debunked for a long time! As employers and co-workers, it is important to remember this, and work hard to identify and reduce these types of biases.
In Canada and abroad, people with disabilities have always made incredible contributions to their communities. In fact, many inspiring figures from history experienced disability; probably more than you’d think. American boxing champion, Muhamad Ali, lived with dyslexia; Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, lived with polio, which was further aggravated by a bus accident; and German composer Ludwig van Beethoven lived with significant hearing loss.
Today, the disabled community continues to make big strides in our world. Lorin MacDonald is a Canadian human rights lawyer and powerful community organizer who experiences profound hearing loss. In 2005, she was a leader in lobbying for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and has also helped standardize the use of captioning at live and virtual events, making them far more accessible.
Farida Bedwei is a celebrated software engineer from Ghana who experiences cerebral palsy. She is the co-founder and chief technical officer of a software company called Logiciel. Having developed a cloud software platform used by over 100 companies nationwide, Bedwei is considered to be the most influential woman in the African financial sector.
Alia Issa is a para-athlete who competed in the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo (club throwing). She was the first woman to compete in the Paralympic Games representing the Refugee Team. As a Syrian refugee living in Greece, Issa overcame many personal, social, and physical barriers to make Olympic history.
Today, and everyday, we should remember the importance of imagining a better future for everyone. The disability rights movement recognizes that people with disabilities are instrumental members of our community who must be represented in the way society is organized. Disability Justice takes this effort even further by recognizing how ableism intersects with multiple other systems of oppression like classism, sexism, and racism.
Modern OT is dedicated to practicing inclusion, equality, and accessibility in all our practices. We invite our readers to check out the resources below to access disability-related support and learn more about creating a just world for all.
Sunflower Conversations (Podcast)
- Supportive stories from real people with non-visible disabilities.
The Accessible Stall (Podcast)
- Funny, insightful conversations between two friends living disabilities about light and heavy disability topics.
Leading Toward Disability Justice (Podcast)
- A critical discuss about disability justice and intersectionality between educators living with disabilities.
- A short (70-page) text which offers a history of the disability justice movement and concrete suggestions for moving beyond ableism.
Service Coordination Support (Community Resource)
- Helps people with developmental disabilities and children with autism spectrum disorder find available resources and plan for their future.
Assistive Devices Program (Community Resource)
- Determines your eligibility for assistive devices (e.g., crutches, walkers, head supports) with costs covered by the Ontario government.
Canadian Mental Health Association (Community Resource)
- Provides services to eligible individuals experiencing severe and persistent mental illness and/or substance use disorder.
- A direct reference to the accessibility measures that are legally required in Ontario.