15 November 2023 – fall is the giving season . . .

. . . . if you’d like to support our work, you can send your gift to [email protected]. We can provide tax deductible receipts for both American and Canadian donors.


PROUD has finished interviewing research participants in all 5 countries; Canada, the US, the UK, France and Belgium. (We are no longer recruiting for this study.)

We are currently publishing Season 2 of our podcast: Broadcastability (www.broadcastability.ca). Episodes are either in English or French and, 2 of them will also by translated into International Sign Language as well. Season 2 podcasts will also be published on our YouTube channel The PROUD Project @theproudproject6570 as a result.

We have been fortunate to have been offered several opportunities to workshop our study results to various groups and stakeholders. We are writing articles for publication in scholarly journals. Recently Chloë Atkins and Isabelle Avakumovic-Pointon published a piece in The Conversation outlining some of the take aways form our multinational research on disability and employment: How employers can tackle misconceptions about disabled people in the workplace.

In October, The American Journal of Bioethics recently published Chloë Atkins’ commentary: A Disabled Bioethicist’s Critique of Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) about the implementation of MAID (medical assistance in dying) in Canada from a disability perspective. Atkins also has an article on disability ethics and the allocation of critical care resources under review and, a chapter being readied for publication by the University of Manitoba which outlines a disability theory perspective on the resistance to public health measures during the COVID pandemic.

The PROUD Project looks forward to carrying out further research with regard to disability and employment, anti-ableism, health equity and, disability rights and justice. We are actively seeking collaborations with scholarly (college or university) or community (businesses, NGOs or government) partners who are interested in disability research and advocacy. We are particularly interested in working with partners in France and, those interested in the disability experience of Indigenous communities in Canada. Of course, we remain open to all proposals for research or advocacy.

If you are thinking of donating to a nonprofit organisation this calendar year, please think of us at The PROUD Project. Please feel free to contact us at: [email protected][email protected] for further information, or give directly to: [email protected].

PROUD is Recruiting Research Participants in the UK , Season 2 of our podcast, Broadcastability, is forthcoming

24 May 2023

The PROUD Project team has almost completed the interviews of our 5 country international study – we are finishing up conversations in the UK this month. We have been speaking to both employees/entrepreneurs living in disabling contexts and employers of people living in disabling contexts in Canada, the UK, the US, France and Belgium. We have learned a great deal from the lived experiences of these individuals during the past 3 years and look forward to sharing our analysis and insights within the next few months.

We are also producing a second season of the podcast, Broadcastability, which focuses on interviews about employment and disability in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium. (As a reminder, the first season focused on Canada.) We anticipate releasing the second season’s episodes this summer.

Dr. Chloe Atkins has presented preliminary findings at 2 Canadian conferences during the past winter. She will also be presenting during Canada’s National Access Awareness Week at the University of Toronto Scarborough: Addressing Ableism, Disability and Accessibility: Progress and Continued Action Plans, 30 May 2023.

Isabelle Avakumovic-Pointon will be in Europe this summer presenting some her own work on the history of disability in Eastern Europe.

The PROUD Project team will be writing articles in French and English providing an overview of the research thus far. We continue to write and publish articles on critical disability studies, ableism, employment and health equity — please see the “Impact” page for further details.

We would like to thank all of the individuals who participated (and continue to participate) in our research. Your knowledge and expertise is absolutely essential to understanding how to better integrate our communities and to counter ableist presumptions which limit both the potential of disabled individuals as well as the overall well-being of our societies.

We would also like to thank both the private and public funders of The PROUD Project’s work. Your financial backing allows us to undertake this important research. It means that we continue to hire highly qualified and highly performing “disabled” academics and professionals as members of our team. More importantly, it means that any recommendations or advocacy we undertake is based in well-carried-out research and substantive analysis.

PROUD Project Blog – August 2022

By Andrea Whiteley, PhD.

There is an accessible and downloadable PDF version of this blog post at the end of the text.

Knowledge Mobilization

The PROUD team is extremely “proud” of our podcast Broadcastability. We finished production in May, creating 8 podcasts with some of our Canadian research participants as well as our with our research partner, Easter Seals Canada. These podcasts have had over 500 downloads. Transcripts of the podcasts will be translated into English and French. We have been promoting the podcasts over social media as well and have put a lot of work into our social media promotion for the PROUD Project in general. We hope to secure more financial support down the road to continue producing podcasts with participants from the other countries where we conducted research.

Chloë has published research several articles during the last few months, in the area of medical ethics and disability including: “An Ethical Analysis of Clinical Triage Protocols and Decision-making Frameworks: What do Principles of Justice, Freedom and a Disability Rights Approach Demand of Us?” and “What Should Clinicians and Patients Know About the Clinical Gaze, Disability, and Iatrogenic Harm When Making Decisions?” The latter article has also been featured in a podcast by the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics. Chloe has just submitted a chapter for a book on scholars with disabilities in the workplace which will be published next year.

Over the past few months, the research team has made presentations at various conferences and to groups interested in our research. In May, Andrea was a guest lecturer for the Masters of Communications Technology Spring Institute at the University of Alberta. The lecture was on “Doing research with vulnerable populations.” Andrea also created a virtual conference poster presentation for the Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity, at The Center on Disability Studies, College of Education, University of Hawai’i at Manoa.

This poster reported on the results of a literature review, entitled “Technological exclusion: How research tools exclude disability perspectives in disability and employment research.” This was a virtual conference so we didn’t actually get to go to Hawaii, unfortunately! Andrea also co-presented at a workshop on equity, diversity and inclusion at UTSC entitled “EDI in Assignment and Course Design – Part 2: Design to hear students’ voices.” This webinar was hosted by the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

Andrea and Chloe (with Brenna Leslie) are also submitting two articles for publication, reporting on the literature review they conducted in the area of disability and employment. Stay tuned for publication details for “A comprehensive literature review of disability and employment scholarship using the Web of Science” and “Implicit expert bias in the Web of Science database in the area of disability and employment research: when research tools exclude disability perspectives.”

Research Highlights

The PROUD Project research team has been pushing forward to finish gathering data from employees and employers in Canada, the US, the UK, France and Belgium. While the Canadian interviews are complete, we have had great success recruiting participants in the US and France and have almost achieved our research goals in these countries. Over the next month we hope to finish interviewing in the UK and Belgium, in order to continue with our analysis in the last phase of the project. To date we have interviewed over 60 employees and employers about their workplace experiences.

The data we have collected about the varied working experiences, workplace cultures, and government supports at play in each country will result in a rich description of the disability and employment landscape. We have found that each country’s approach to people with disabilities in the workforce as well as attitudes are very different. The goal of this research is to provide recommendations and best practices for employers, policy makers, and the disability community, about how to create a better workplace environment and experience for people with disabilities, drawing from successful approaches and models.

Student Training

The PROUD Project has benefited greatly from our amazing student hires who have helped us achieve our research and teaching goals. Over the last six months we have hired and trained four research assistants and one teaching assistant.

Isabelle Avakumovic-Pointon, a graduate student at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Ahad Alingary, a UTSC undergrad, assisted in the production and editing of the

“Broadcastability” podcasts, updated our PROUD website, and created social media posts, including Tiktok videos and Instagram reels, to promote the podcasts and assist with research recruiting. Isabelle has also been participating in French and Belgian research interviews and helping translate documents and transcripts into French.

Rachael Desborough, a political science doctoral candidate, is compiling a report on government policies and funding supports for people with disabilities in the countries where we are carrying out our research.

Caroline Cassinelli, graduate student at HMKW University, also has video production experience and is closely connect with the d/Deaf community in the U.S. She assisted Andrea with recruiting participants in the U.S., posting to our social media accounts, and editing transcriptions from research interviews.

Tania Ruiz-Chapman, an Ontario Institute for Studies in Education doctoral candidate, was the teaching assistant for the Health and Society course taught in the Winter 2022 Semester. She trained Andrea on how to use Quercus for online teaching, looked after the video technology during classes, and is now working with Andrea to write a research article on their experiences.

Chloë and Andrea are so grateful for the excellent assistance and experience that the students have brought to the team and have really enjoyed working with everyone.


In the Winter 2022 Semester, Chloë and Andrea taught a fourth year undergraduate course entitled, “Research Methodology and the Ethics of Working with Disabled, d/Deaf People and Other Vulnerable Groups” offered to students in the Health and Society Department at UTSC.

Andrea and Chloë collaborated with three scholars at the University of Manchester: Professor Alys Young, Dr. Katherine Rogers, and Dr. Emma Ferguson Coleman. Emma and Katie are deaf, and used British Sign Language interpreters during the lectures. Andrea was the instructor of record for this course and created the syllabus, reading list, course description, curriculum, and Quercus site for the course. Andrea also made course materials accessible for screen readers, and negotiated the use of the Catalyst Centre at UTSC for the delivery of this course.

This course was an amazing experience for the instructional team and students alike. We received a great deal of positive feedback from students who took this course, and are very excited to have forged a strong relationship with our colleagues at the University of Manchester.


The research team was able to secure funding to support students this year thanks to the Career Ready/Technation Student Employment Grant that allowed us to hire Isabelle, as well as a Teaching Enhancement Grant from UTSC that Andrea wrote to hire Tania, our teaching assistant for the course we taught this semester.

Thank-you to all our funders and supporters!

PROUD Project Blog – March 2022

Update March 18, 2022 

The PROUD Project researchers have shifted our focus to interviewing research participants in France and the UK, now that our Canadian interviews are almost complete.  We are still open to recruiting employers and managers in Canada who employ people with disabilities in their workplace to talk to us about their experiences. Since the start of 2022, we have produced 3 more recordings for our Broadcastability podcast.  Check them out at https://www.broadcastability.ca.  Andrea and Chloë are also teaching a course at the University of Toronto Scarborough, in partnership with the University of Manchester, on “Research Methodology and the Ethics of Working with Disabled, d/Deaf People and Other Vulnerable Groups.”  This innovative course is a “Global Classrooms Initiative” that is collaborating with Dr. Emma Ferguson-Coleman, Dr. Katherine Rogers, and Dr. Alys Young to teach students about how to ethically carry out research with members of the d/Deaf and disabled community.  Check out our Impact page for new publications and engagements https://www.theproudproject.ca/impact/ 

If you or someone you know is interested in participating in our research, or would like to know more about our project, contact the research team at: https://www.theproudproject.ca/contact-us/ 

PROUD Project Blog – November 2021

So many exciting and positive developments have happened since our last blog for the PROUD Project.  This update is to let our participants, followers and other interested visitors know about our progress. 

We are mostly finished conducting interviews with employees for our Canadian phase of the research project.  We are still hoping to recruit a couple of people with disabilities that are veterans or have worked in Canada’s military.  We are full swing into recruiting people working in management positions in organizations and businesses in Canada, that currently employ people with physical disabilities, about their experiences and insights. 

As we move into recruiting employees and employers in other countries, we have launched a LinkedIn ad to help us reach people in the U.S., France, Belgium and the U.K. Thanks for the Communications Team at the University of Toronto Scarborough for their assistance in creating a video and ad to help us in this regard. 

Our podcast series, “Broadcastability,” has now posted two podcasts – one in English and one in French, with participants we met through the PROUD Project study. Taylor and Joel have very interesting personal stories as well as insights into how we can create more inclusive workplaces.  We have had excellent feedback from listeners about these podcasts and feel very proud of the work our production team has done.  We now have a team of six people working on creating, editing, and promoting our podcasts.  Kudos to:  Isabelle Avacumovic-Pointon, Ahad Alingary at the University of Toronto, and Jessica Geboers and Casey Sabawi from Easter Seals Canada.  We are dropping new podcasts monthly and will have two more interviews available on www.broadcastability.ca before the end of the year. 

Andrea and Chloë will be teaching a course in the Winter 2022 Semester on “Research Methodology and the Intersectional Ethics of Working with disabled and d/Deaf people and other vulnerable groups.” This course has received funding from the Global Classrooms Initiative at UTSC as well as a Teaching Enhancement Grant from the Teaching and Learning Centre at UTSC.  We are also working with scholars from the University of Manchester (UoM) — Alys Young, Katherine Young, and Emma Ferguson-Rogers — to deliver a collaborative and completely accessible course for students from the deaf community and as well as students with other kinds of learning, sensory, or physical disabilities.  Part of the learning curve for us is   ensuring that all course materials are accessible and creating video lectures that are also simultaneously translated to British Sign Language.  This course will be a very inclusive, interesting and innovative experience for our students! 

Chloë has published an article about disability ethics’ contribution to making critical care triage decision-making more equitable, [Atkins, Chloë GK, and Sunit Das. “A Critique of the Use of the Clinical Frailty Scale in Triage.” The American journal of bioethics: AJOB 21, no. 11 (2021): 67-68. 10.1080/15265161.2021.1980135]. And, she has published another article which outlines how easily medical research can misunderstand people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. [Atkins, Chloë, and Carolina Barnett. “People With Myasthenia Are Getting Better, but Are They Doing Well?.” (2021): 663-664. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000012617].

The research team is completing two articles outlining our findings during a bibliometric literature review in the area of disability and employment.  For this research we surveyed 1200 publications to understand the kinds of research being done, where the research is taking place, and who the top contributors are to the field.  Our research results are very interesting as we not only conducted a comprehensive literature review in an area that has not been investigated in this way before, but also provided a critique of the Web of Science research database as a tool for disability studies scholars. 

Chloë and Andrea will be presenting at the Disability and Work Canada Conference on December 2, from 2:30 – 3:25 pm EST.  Our panel discussion is about: Tools and Strategies to Support Employers’ Efforts to Include Persons Living with Disabilities in the Workforce.  We look forward to presenting along with Helen Grantis, federal government expert in Accessible and Inclusive Staffing and Assessment, and Christine Morin at the Centre de recherche pour l’inclusion des personnes en situation de handicapOur presentation is titled:The ‘secret sauce’ to improving employment outcomes for persons with disabilities

Summer Solstice Update for the PROUD Project – 21 June 2021 (National Indigenous People’s Day)

The PROUD research team is entering the summer months busier than ever and we wanted to update participants, followers and other interested visitors about our progress. 

We are almost finished conducting interviews with employees for our Canada phase of the research project, and are now recruiting employers. 

We would like to hear from organizations and businesses in Canada, that currently employ people with physical disabilities, about their experiences and insights. 

We are beginning the production of our podcast series, “Broadcastability” in collaboration with Easter Seals Canada. These podcasts feature participants from our research who are interested in sharing their experiences in the workplace with a larger, public audience.  We are hiring a student to help with the podcasts on a part-time basis for the next 6-12 months.  We have a description and call for this position at _________.

Easter Seals Canada invited us to present our research findings at a webinar for Red Shirt Day Canada, entitled: “What Works:  What does disability inclusion bring to the workplace.”  The slides and webinar recording will be captioned and can be accessed both on the Easter Seals website and here.  The PROUD Project will also write a short article outlining some of the observations that we shared during this session.

Chloë Atkins and Andrea Whiteley recently received funding from the University of Toronto Global Classrooms Initiative to teach a course in the Health & Society program at Scarborough College.  It will be a senior undergraduate course entitled: Research Methodology and the Intersectional Ethics of Working with Disabled and d/Deaf People and Other Vulnerable Groups. Some of our projects will be in liaison with scholars from the University of Manchester, UK.  Alys Young, Katherine Young, and Emma Ferguson-Rogers and ourselves will endeavour to deliver a collaborative and completely accessible course for deaf and disabled students from UoM and University of Toronto.  

The research team is currently writing two articles reporting on our bibliometric literature review in the area of disability and employment.  For this research we surveyed 1200 publications to understand the specialization, location, type and contributors to research in the field.  Typically, our results revealed slightly different conclusions than we expected and we ended up undertaking a critique of the use of research databases as a tool for people interested in disability inclusion in the workforce.

We are happily busy.  And we invite anyone who is interested in disability and in furthering disabled persons inclusion in the workforce and overall society to get in touch with us. 

In particular, as it is National Indigenous People’s Day in Canada, and that disability occurs at higher rates in indigenous populations, if we can be of assistance to First Nations, Metis and Innuit communities who want to carry out their own explorations in the area of disability, we would be happy to try be of help.

What do you do during a pandemic when your research is put on hold?

An image of a laptop keyboard with a coffee cup and books messily stacked beside it. There are a pair of reading glasses left open across the keyboard.

By Andrea Whiteley, Post-Doctoral Fellow for the PROUD Project

While the pandemic may have slowed down our research process somewhat, our research team stayed very busy over the last year.  Our team has created an accessible website, applied for and received a TechNation grant which supported the hiring of another researcher, secured private funding for several years, successfully applied for a federal knowledge mobilization grant, undertaken a bibliometric-style literature review, and reorganized our project to be carried out via video-conference.  We’ve attended some excellent conferences and events that have enhanced our professional development and shaped our understanding.  Finally, we’ve also been learning a great deal as we interview research participants about their employment experiences. 

Broadcastability:  A podcast series on experiences of disability and employment in Canada

The PROUD Team was recently awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant to support the production of 8-10 podcasts to showcase the stories and experiences of our research participants.  The focus of the podcasts is to quite literally broadcast the abilities of people with disabilities.  We are partnering with Easter Seals of Canada to produce and promote the podcasts, and have also received funding support from the Centre for Global Disability Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough.  Chloë and Andrea will act as the podcast hosts, and will welcome guest hosts for some of the programs.  We plan to hire and train a student and an Easter Seals volunteer to assist with the podcasts.  Stay tuned for the release of our first podcast over the next few months. 

Comprehensive literature review in the area of disability and employment

We are currently putting the final touches on two (or more) research articles resulting from a meta-analysis of scholarly publications. By doing this literature review we wanted to understand:

  • What kinds of research have been published over the past 10 years in this area
  • What researchers are carrying out similar projects to ours, and
  • What countries or institutions are involved in disability and employment research. 

We hired a graduate student studying for her Masters of Library and Information Science degree, Brenna Leslie, to assist with the literature review.  We have analysed over 1200 publications to get a sense of the research landscape for the study of disability and employment. 

Disability Advocacy and the COVID-19 Pandemic

One of the most important roles of an academic is to communicate research results not only to our knowledge communities but also to other stakeholders outside of academia that might benefit or be interested in our research.  When the pandemic first began Chloë and Andrea were motivated to enter the conversation around supporting vulnerable populations.  We published an opinion article in the University of Toronto Medical Journal entitled Vulnerability, Social triage and the Covid-19 Pandemic.  In this article we argue that if countries are concerned about managing pandemics better, governments need to secure and improve the lives of all vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, people of colour, immigrants, seniors, and low-income essential workers who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic even started, these groups had been “triaged” away from care by their social and economic circumstances, where structural features of their lives made them more susceptible to the physical dangers of COVID-19. By adopting a macroscopic perspective that examines cultural biases, safety regulations, labour laws, building codes, urban-planning and socio-economic policies, our society will be better equipped to weather global pandemics or other crises in the future.

36th Annual Pacific Rim International Conference On Disability & Diversity

We attended this excellent on-line conference on disability and diversity and came away energized and excited by the sessions we attended.  Three outstanding sessions for me were:

  • Talk-Story session on Confronting Complacency:  Advancing Equity for All presented by Ashley Oolman and Alli Strong-Martin, Lifeworks Services
  • Skillshare session on You Can Do Employment Too by Erica Belois-Pacer and Kevin Dierks
  • Final Keynote presentation by Haben Girma

Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School

An image of a young brown-skinned, Eritrean woman. She has a clear complexion, with large brown eyes . Her dark brown hair is tied back and her mouth is partially opened in a smile. She wears gold drop earrings and a burgundy v-neck top with short capped sleeves.

I learned so much at each of these sessions from the “Role of Federal Policy in Promoting Inclusive Employment in the US” (Belois-Pacer and Dierks); to the “Conceptual models of disability” (Oolman and Strong-Martin) to how “disability drives innovation.”  The quote of the conference, from Haben Girma’s really captivating presentation, was:

The dominant narrative is that disabled people are a burden on society.  There’s this myth that there’s two kinds of people:  dependent and independent.  That’s not true.  All of us are interdependent. My 11 year-old daughter loved this presentation as well and was so thrilled by the video of Haben surfing!  The only thing that would have made this conference even better was if we could have met everyone face to face at the conference in Hawaii!  We are planning to send in an abstract for next year’s conference whether or not we can travel there in person.  One of the wonderful outcomes of this pandemic has been how increased use of videoconferencing technologies has resulted in more accessibility for everyone, especially for people who find travel difficult due to personal, physical or financial circumstances. 

15 March 2021.

Photo credits: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=151115&picture=computer-books; https://newscantell.blogspot.com/2017/04/haben-girma-first-deaf-and-blind.html

International Day for Disabled Persons – 3 Dec 2020

Today is the UN International Day of the Disabled Person.  I suspect that most people don’t know and don’t care. 

The problem with innumerable advocacy movements clamouring for attention and highlighting their specific cause with special months and days is that these calendar reminders have come to mean little to those outside their immediate cause.  A UN day of observation likely carries a bit more gravitas.  But I suspect that most of my friends and colleagues, even those who focus on social justice, remain unaware of the International Day of the Disabled Person.  Even if they were to notice that today acts to raise awareness of the presence of disabled individuals in our midst and of the particular forms of discrimination they face, few would be able to detail anything beyond a generalized support for ‘accessibility’ or ‘universal design.’  They would not be aware that almost ¼ the US population now identifies as disabled.  Elsewhere, the proportion of people who claim disability as an identity also steadily increases.  A friend, who teaches a class about disability politics, canvases his students at the beginning of each semester about their ties to disability.  He discovers every year that over half disclose that they themselves or, someone close to them, is disabled.  Given this prevalence, one would think that disability equality and rights would claim a greater profile than they do. 

Even as I carry out research on disability justice and, try to encourage conventional and scholarly awareness of systemic and systematic barriers that disabled people encounter across multiple jurisdictions and cultures, I wonder why humans tend to disavow the needs of the disabled.  I‘ve thought about this for many years and I’ve come to suspect that we turn away from images and ideas that make us feel vulnerable. The unfamiliar makes us uncomfortable but when the unfamiliar reminds us that we are morbid and mortal creatures, perhaps we reflexively turn away from it.  A physical, sensory, cognitive or emotional impairment suggests a deviation from the norm that insinuates that we might be potentially less capable than others.  Much like injured animals who mask their pain, humans may find it easier to overtly deny their own impairments and those of others.  And, many disabilities are “invisible” and thus simple to disown.  Afterall, who wants to be known for seeming incapacity?  

Perhaps it is instinctive? 

But, I’ve come to realize: so what, if it is instinctive.

Isn’t the point of the social endeavour of community is that we come together because we are better as a collective than we ever were alone?  By gathering as one society, creating institutions and rules to nurture and govern us, we’ve built remarkable forms: agriculture, cities, artwork, literature, laws . . . . the list is vast.  In coming together we’ve tamed some of our instinctive impulses and channeled our more basic energies into a world that does remarkable things – the latest of which is the worldwide effort to contain and then create vaccines against COVID19.  SARS COV2 is a naturally occurring, wild virus that has unleashed an existential threat.  While we’ve not vanquished it yet, there are glimmers that our collective action will tame its menace.

And so too, despite what might be instinct, we can collectively tame our reflexive uneasiness with disability.  We can confront that which makes us uncomfortable.  The very essence of the collective project of society is that it makes us better humans. . . . and turning our gaze towards our companions with impairments not only makes us better, conscious beings by embracing those whom we fear, it also allows our overall community to benefit from the sheer capacity and ingenuity of disabled individuals which currently lie largely dormant and untapped by the rest of humanity.

Let’s not only notice the UN International Day of the Disabled Person, but try to bring others into our fold of awareness and action, because we ALL can only be improved by this effort.

Disabled Lives Matter

Canadian Reflections on the
30th Anniversary of the
American with Disabilities Act
26 July 2020

Thirty years ago, the US Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark piece of civil rights law that many hoped would fundamentally change the lives of disabled Americans. It also had a resounding impact around the globe and stood as an example of legislation which mandated the physical renovation of private and public spaces and, of the workforce, to accommodate disabled individuals. Similarly, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) which came into effect in 2005 also held great promise for removing systemic barriers limiting employment and physical accessibility for disabled Ontarians.

A little over 10 years ago I published an article which compared American and Canadian legal approaches to the integration of disabled persons in workplaces. Sadly, my research found both systems wanting. Whether it is the ADA or Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, federal employment equity legislation, provincial human rights codes or even the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act I (AODA) law, it appears does not necessarily incarnate actual change. To be clear, there is no doubt that as a result of the ADA, it became easier for wheelchair users and others with mobility and sensory limitations, to navigate physical environments such as public buildings and transit systems in the US. Public transport did become more inclusive. Workplaces however did not. US courts eviscerated the statute and over 90% of disabled plaintiffs lost lawsuits for workplace accommodation. In Canada, human rights tribunals and the courts were more expansive and kinder to those seeking equity. However, these decisions did little to change rates of unemployment and gross under-employment of disabled Canadians. A Catch-22 occurs in which, because few visibly disabled populate the workplace, there seems to be little reason to renovate employment policies behaviours and spaces, but it is precisely because these accommodations don’t exist that qualified disabled individuals remain excluded from the workforce. Organizations thus often deem adaptations to be prohibitively expensive or unreasonable to implement. The disabled community remains financially weak and thus lacks the economic power to launch suits challenging inaccessibility. Sympathetic court decisions can’t be reinforced by the reassertion of more legal challenges — in the manner that the Canadian gay community has leveraged its ability to win repeated lawsuits, thereby reinforcing statutory rights. The AODA aims to make the province fully accessible by 2025, but given current conditions, this seems unlikely.

While there are certainly ovular moments in the disability movement of which Canadians can be proud: Terry Fox, Rick Hansen, Jim Sinclair’s speech admonishing “Don’t mourn for us,” which started the international neurodiversity movement, and the Supreme Court “Boisbriand” judgement; but even so, disabled Canadians remain disadvantaged within society. Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this outsider status even more apparent.

In the summer of 2020, all over the world, as a result of the pandemic, office and educational workers are now telecommuting and video-conferencing as they self-isolate at home. The speed with which organizations have made tele-communicating “work” is staggering. Businesses and organizations which previously refused to allow disabled employees these very same accommodations to either secure or retain employment, now need to adopt them to survive. The irony is very clear to those in the disability community.

As the pandemic left China and moved into Europe and North America, it was obvious that the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions and disabilities were being disproportionately affected with higher rates of serious infection and death. Despite this knowledge, American and Canadian governments and medical communities created policies which inadvertently exacerbated the negative impact of COVID-19 on the vulnerable and disabled. For example, in the scramble for ventilators, California sought to catalogue the home-based ventilators of its disabled population in case they were needed for ‘normal’ people who became stricken with COVID in the hospitals. In New York State, hospitalized ‘COVID positive’ long term care patients were returned to their residences to clear out acute care beds even though these patients were still shedding virus, thus seeding infection and death inside care homes. In Ontario, policy makers declared that inhabitants of long term care homes would not be taken to hospital even if they became critically ill with COVID 19 and put in place mechanisms to limit transfer to hospitals from long term care. Administrators of homecare and long term care were asked to reassign staff and supplies to funnel them toward acute care. With Italy already triaging scarce medical resources away from the elderly and disabled, Canadian bureaucrats followed suit. Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and personnel further devastated the situation in Ontario and Quebec residences. Other policies intended to protect the elderly and disabled in these institutions, have forced them into prolonged periods of intense social and physical isolation — with little innovative thinking to offer care and stimulation as an alternative. Ontario disseminated a triaging protocol to medical personnel that deliberately prioritized intensive care resources for those without underlying conditions and denied these services to those who already received care assistance at home. (The protocol was eventually withdrawn). The overall ethos seemed to be that the ‘young and fit’ needed to be prioritized and, some seniors even expressed a willingness to sacrifice themselves for their grandchildren. Those in care, the elderly and disabled members of society were pitted against the young and healthy persons. At the outset, the disabled, the chronically ill and the elderly were expendable. They were treated as if they didn’t make any valued contributions to their communities. Ageism and ableism abounded.

As of this summer (the 30th anniversary of the ADA and the 15th of the AODA), over 80% of pandemic deaths that have occurred in Canada , occurred in long term care — it is the worst rate in the world (although the disabled and elderly have suffered disproportionately elsewhere as well). Long term care remains a separate realm in this country — as do the lives of the disabled. The facilities have been underfunded for decades. The adoption of the ADA (and the AODA) does not make adequate resources available for the disabled. The pandemic has made the lack of space, personnel, bathrooms, and equipment go from very poor and inadequate, to negligently tragic. We discovered that provincial governments seemed uncaring and impotent when confronted by PPE shortages, work refusals, filth, dehydration, and soaring infection rates in this population. The military eventually had to be called in and it released a scathing report about the conditions that our ‘beloved’ seniors live in.

But Canadian care workers can’t be blamed for this appalling lack of consideration for the disabled and elderly. For decades they’ve been forced to work in understaffed conditions, dilapidated environments, with poor or nonexistent training and substandard wages. Immigrants and refugees tend to populate the lower level “caring” industry serving the disabled and elderly. They lack economic, social and political power to make the changes they know are needed but are powerless to affect. Meanwhile for-profit-firms made money even as people who needed palatable food, clean pleasant surroundings and attentive carers, didn’t receive them.

Few realize that those who require care “beyond acute health care” must rely largely on their own resources in Canada. Assistive devices such as wheelchairs, canes, crutches, guide dogs, ramps and lifts are all financed outside of the Canada Health Act. Given the extremely low rates of employment for people with disabilities, most are unable to buy the care and equipment they need. They turn instead to paltry government programs.

For example, the federal Canada Pension Plan only pays out to those who contribute — and its payments are in proportion to the tithings it’s received from any individual. If you’re born disabled or become disabled young and can’t work, you’re ineligible.

The provinces have public disability pensions but all of them are based on a criteria of indigence. Technically, a disabled person needs to divest themselves of any capital assets before they can apply to be considered for a provincial disability pension. In Ontario and British Columbia the pension is about $1100/month. (And of course, a disabled person is penalized if they earn any casual money on top of that amount). Ironically, the federal government has offered pandemic relief of $2000/month to Canadians who have lost their jobs or who cannot work. Some of these are students who live with their parents (and don’t pay rent) who happened to earn $5000 last year doing part time or itinerant work. Those receiving disability pensions are ineligible to apply for this emergency money. Two thousand dollars per month is presumed to be the base sum that a lone individual requires in this country. Disabled people are expected to live on almost half the amount that regular Canadians are expected to subsist on.

Thirty years out, neither the Americans with Disabilities Act, nor the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act which was inspired by it, have addressed the underlying prejudices that exist throughout our culture. Disabled people point to the exigencies of the pandemic to illustrate the habitual bias they experience. Even well-intentioned ‘liberal’ laws such as medical assistance in dying (MAID) mask fundamental problems in how we view disability. MAID itself relies on the medical status of an individual but it never takes into account the physical, social, economic and intimate care circumstances of that individual. Someone with an intractable illness living in one of Canada’s long term care facilities may well have an intolerable existence, but someone with the same incurable condition who has access to good food, care, privacy, friends, stimulation and nature may well find their life to be quite tolerable. Social conditions matter.

This summer, in 2020, it is apparent that we socially fail disabled people. We continue to treat them as separate, unconsidered and unworthy entities. I hope, that as we adopt accommodations (that many disabled people pioneered) to make our own lives more livable during this pandemic, we truly need to realize that disabled people are intricately a part of our communities. They are us, they belong with us and we need to recognize that: DISABLED LIVES MATTER.