Broad­en­ing the scope of disability in Canada

On­tario has a goal of be­ing en­tirely ac­ces­si­ble by 2025. That starts with un­der­stand­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - SA­JID RAH­MAN

It is es­sen­tial for law­mak­ers to con­sider how peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties de­fine their own needs and ex­pe­ri­ences.

When we think of disability, we are of­ten quick to as­so­ciate this term to some­one in a wheel­chair, a per­son who has para­ple­gia or a per­son who is blind or deaf. We imag­ine some­one us­ing a cane, a service an­i­mal or hear­ing aid.

But a disability isn’t al­ways some­thing phys­i­cal we can see. Dis­abil­i­ties are of­ten hid­den be­neath the sur­face.

Many of us rely on an in­ac­cu­rate def­i­ni­tion of what it means to be dis­abled that ig­nores the dif­fi­cult re­al­ity f aced by thou­sands of Cana­di­ans.

It’s es­ti­mated that 3.8 mil­lion Cana­di­ans live with some form of disability — and many are af­fected by dis­abil­i­ties that are not ob­vi­ous when we look at them. In­tel­lec­tual, de­vel­op­men­tal, mem­ory, learn­ing and men­tal health dis­abil­i­ties are all ex­am­ples of dis­abil­i­ties that can go un­de­tected, un­less a per­son chooses to dis­close their con­di­tion.

The num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties in Canada con­tin­ues to grow as our large pop­u­la­tion of baby boomers and se­niors grow and age.

We also tend to cor­re­late disability with per­ma­nency. Usu­ally, we don’t af­fil­i­ate the term disability with tem­po­rary in­juries or mo­bil­ity im­ped­i­ments caused by an ac­ci­den­tal slip or fall, or even spo­radic epilep­tic episodes, for ex­am­ple. But the Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal of On­tario has found that th­ese types of hin­drances and in­ci­dents are dis­abil­i­ties un­der the On­tario Hu­man Rights Code.

Even peo­ple who make use of disability ben­e­fits, pro­grams, or have a chronic disor- der like epilepsy, may not nec­es­sar­ily iden­tify with the term dis­abled or disability.

We have to change this way of think­ing, which doesn’t cap­ture the true toll that dis­abil­i­ties take on fam­i­lies across Canada. We must re­de­fine the term disability and broaden its scope. Why is this im­por­tant? To cre­ate a more ac­ces­si­ble Canada, or­ga­ni­za­tions, em­ploy­ers, pol­icy-mak­ers, hu­man rights de­ci­sion-mak­ers and all other groups must fully un­der­stand and grasp the con­cept of disability and what that term en­com­passes. To prop­erly im­ple­ment in­clu­sive and key pieces of leg­is­lation, it is es­sen­tial for law­mak­ers to con­sider how peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties de­fine their own needs and ex­pe­ri­ences.

On­tario has set a goal of be­ing en­tirely ac­ces­si­ble by 2025. As uni­ver­si­ties, busi­nesses, em­ploy­ers and or­ga­ni­za­tions be­gin to take the nec­es­sary steps to com­ply with and meet the stan­dards of the bill, it is im­por­tant for in­sti­tu­tions to start think­ing be­yond merely the ob­vi­ous, phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, and en­sure that the changes they are im­ple­ment­ing and bring­ing forth are in­clu­sive to all mem­bers of the disability com­mu­nity.

Sa­jid Rah­man is the Show Man­ager for Peo­ple in Mo­tion, Canada’s largest disability ex­hi­bi­tion tak­ing place on Fri­day, May 26 and Satur­day, May 27 at Ex­hi­bi­tion Place, Queen El­iz­a­beth Build­ing in Toronto. Ad­mis­sion for the ex­hi­bi­tion is free to all vis­i­tors. For more in­for­ma­tion visit peo­ple-in-mo­


Some dis­abil­i­ties are im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous, such as peo­ple need­ing to use wheel­chairs. Many oth­ers are not read­ily vis­i­ble but equally se­ri­ous, writes Sa­jid Rah­man.

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