Submitted by: Professionals with Disabilities Committee
December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Awareness days are a time to celebrate our achievements and remind us of the work still to do as we strive for equity and inclusion in all aspects of our lives. Workforce discrimination continues to be a major issue for persons with disabilities. Employment Canada indicates that 645,000 Canadians with disabilities have the potential to work in an inclusive labour market but are currently not working. This isn’t by choice; it is a symptom of the deeply ingrained discrimination persons with disabilities continue to face today.
We all have a role to play to end ableism in every aspect of our lives. An easy way to start is to keep one key question in mind at all times: “What can I do to make sure this opportunity is available to people with disabilities?” You can start by putting yourself in our shoes and consider how you would want to be included. You may also need to do a bit of research to find out what is needed to include people of different abilities, and then make reasonable accommodations so everyone can participate. We encourage you to consider all abilities when creating new documents, programs, structures, employment opportunities, events, etc. Whether your accommodations for people with disabilities are being done due to a legal obligation or voluntarily, we ask you not to treat accommodation as if it is extra work or a chore. Others pick up on that attitude, which can exacerbate the discrimination people with disabilities already face and sends a clear signal to us that you believe we are a burden.
Just like anyone, people with disabilities want to be seen for our ability, not disability.
People living with a disability are one of the most excluded groups in our society. This has a wide range of consequences, including to our economic prosperity, participation in community, and access to health care. We can even see the effects of ability-based discrimination in the COVID-19 global pandemic as persons with disabilities have suffered a disproportionate number of fatalities.
While society at-large has made notable strides in how people talk about those of us with disabilities, we know from our own experiences that there needs to be much greater awareness. Please be aware that some terminology to capture a person’s “difference in abilities” can be devaluing or unwanted. Some antiquated terms are widely understood to be offensive, but even “handicapped” or “disabled” can be used in a way that is hurtful as well. It is important to use “person first” language when speaking about a person with a disability. An easy way to think about it is to always put the person first. We prefer the “person first” approach because it recognizes that no person is defined by their disability. For example, “a person in a wheelchair,” rather than “a wheelchair-bound person.” Or, “a person with a hearing impairment,” rather than “a deaf person.”
Employers, unions and colleagues can also demonstrate support for those with disabilities by speaking about diversity from a strength-based perspective rather than from an “ablest lens.” Rather than judging someone’s capacity based on their disability or because they do things a bit differently, it means creating a welcoming, inclusive and accommodating environment for all.