By Donna Franz
The United Nations marked Dec. 3 as International Day for Persons with Disabilities.
International days create opportunities for us all to share information, provide education, discuss concerning social issues, and mobilize political awareness, about global health and wellness.
On internationally marked days, we are all encouraged to think about our local community and global friends and neighbours, and the challenges we face. In the case of Dec. 3, we are asked to turn our focus to those of us who have visible and non-visible disabilities that can create added challenges in life.
“Persons with disabilities remain one of the most excluded groups in our society,” says the UN, and are hit the hardest when crisis strikes.
An estimated one billion people identify as having a disability and it is anticipated that by 2050, the world population will grow to 9.9 billion from 7.8 billion in 2020, a 25% increase.
Stats Canada (2017) found that 26% age 65 and older report pain related disability.
Indigenous people experience higher rates of disability (36% of women and 26% of men in Canada, excluding those on reserves).
Persons with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty.
The UN encourages us all to become more “aware” so that we can look at building strategies that we can implement to reduce barriers for persons with disabilities; barriers that create poverty, discrimination and exclusion.
On Dec. 3, will you plan to learn more about the discrimination and harassment persons with disabilities face in the workplace and how unemployment is leading them into financial distress?
On Dec. 3, will you seek to learn how COVID-19 has further isolated persons with disabilities? Imposed social isolation due to the pandemic has hit all of us to some degree and we have been frustrated. For many persons with disabilities isolation was every-day occurrence before COVID-19.
COVID-19 has been additionally catastrophic for persons with disabilities, who are typically the hardest hit in any crisis, especially with respect to fatalities. For them COVID-19 has created challenges accessing available healthcare providers, and care attendants are in short supply. Some people with disabilities rely on care attendants for daily living support every day.
On Dec. 3, will you plan to come together with persons with disabilities to talk and share information, stories, and solutions to problems persons with disabilities face on a day-to-day basis? Solutions to barriers like entering a building that only has stairs, sitting with friends in pubs have inaccessible washrooms, watching videos that don’t have closed captions, and reading websites that don’t have alt text.
“I wish for a world that views disabilities, mental or physical, not as a hinderance but as unique attributes that can be seen as powerful assets if given the right opportunities,” said Dr. Oliver Sacks, best-selling author (Awakenings) and professor of neurology
What do artists Claude Monet, Agatha Christie, and Frida Kahlo have in common? A disability.
- Monet, the French impressionist painter, was diagnosed with cataracts and almost blind by the end of his life. His admired water lily series was painted while losing his sight. You might wonder if his vision loss predisposed him to exceptional impressionism.
- Christie, a British crime novelist, was considered the “slow one,” by her family. She had difficulty writing, called dysgraphia, and found spelling challenging. She dictated all her thrilling material to a typist. You could say her typist was her assistive device.
- Mexican artist Kahlo is famous for her expressive self-portraits. As a child she developed polio. At age 18, she was seriously injured in a bus accident and subsequently suffered chronic medical challenges and pain for the rest of her life. You might say that suffering creates passionate creativity and creative ways of dealing with disability.
Many would not likely have guessed these famous artists had a disability, but they did. It appears their disabilities created unique artistic expression that created possibilities.
These famous artists with disabilities contributed significantly to the art world. These artists benefitted from help. People with disabilities may need your help and they most definitely need to be recognized for their abilities and innovations and be treated with dignity.
With awareness communities will be more helpful and welcoming for persons with disabilities. Plan to install ramps, remove tripping hazards, provide helpful way-finding signage, provide closed captions on videos and alt text on websites, and fund universal designs that work for all. With full accessibility to environments, communication, art, employment, music, businesses, social gatherings, care, and park/playgrounds/ trails, we can help support and harvest a wealth of untapped talent and potential.
This International day for Persons with Disabilities is an opportunity for us to learn more about persons with disabilities from persons with disabilities.
On Dec. 3, will you observe your environment, your biases, your fears, and your own limitations, and then look at ways to remove barriers for all, so that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to achieve optimal self-expression with dignity?
By commemorating Dec. 3, we will help bring to awareness a vision, for a new world that welcomes the uniqueness of all individuals, as a source of wealth called diversity. Accessibility will help create inclusion, which achieves diversity.
Will you be part of a global community on Dec. 3 by enhancing your awareness and building your openness to learn new ways to welcome inclusion and diversity in this artistic world?
Donna Franz is an occupational therapist at Design 4 Accessibility.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.