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International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2015: Inclusion Matters!

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been commemorated since 1992 to promote awareness and mobilize support for critical issues relating to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. There could not be any closer alignment between the LiveWorkPlay mission, vision, values, and theory of change and this year’s IDPD theme, which is “Inclusion Matters” as explained by the United Nations website:


The estimated one billion people living with disabilities worldwide face many barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. As a result, people with disabilities do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. The right to participate in public life is essential to create stable democracies, active citizenship and reduce inequalities in society.

Persons with disabilities must be able to fulfil their role in society and participate on an equal basis with others. It is important to focus on the ability and not on the disability of an individual. Often, the societal image of persons with disabilities is impacted by attitudes based on stigma and discrimination, as well as archaic ideas about disability and persons with disabilities that are often the greatest barrier to their full and equal participation in society and development on an equal basis with others. It is important to note that disability is part of the human condition, and that all of us either are or will become disabled to one degree or another during the course of our lives.

Cooper and Alex mark the occasion with Minister Qualtrough

At LiveWorkPlay we are particularly proud of our advocacy work in 2015 and our transparency and clarity with respect to issues of segregation in housing, employment, education, recreation, and all aspects of community life. These efforts include private advocacy in support of individuals and families, as well as public leadership. In 2015 the issue of sheltered workshops and related segregated agency environments came to the fore. It started with a very confused and highly politicized story that broke in the Ottawa Citizen back in March. Momentum continued with a human rights complaint in Sarnia, and then an investigative series in the Toronto Star that yielded a blockbuster announcement from Minister Jaczek: it’s the beginning of the end of sheltered workshops in Ontario.

Sometimes social change is a slow grind, and sometimes it moves in leaps and bounds. We know that a big announcement is only a step in a new direction. There is now a lot of work to do!

Where young people with intellectual disabilities were once routinely channeled into segregation, schools will now need to approach the high school years very differently. Instead of preparing students for a future life built largely around staffed agency environments, they’ll need to look at how those valuable high school years can be best utilized to support a future as included and valued citizens.

Developmental Services agencies across the province will need to make adjustments. In some cases it will mean being prepared to welcome many new individuals. In other cases it will mean dramatic changes from top to bottom, which some will find difficult. LiveWorkPlay is prepared to contribute on both counts – with additional resources we are prepared to help more individuals, and we are also prepared to work closely with other agencies to deliver collective impact.

The United Nations sub-themes for IDPD 2015 include two other highly relevant issues:

  • Improving disability data and statistics

We really don’t know very much about people with intellectual disabilities at the local, provincial or national level. Most of the frequently quoted data is from as long ago as the 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS). Over the past decade so much has changed with respect to our understanding of disability that the type of questions that are important to ask and the type of data that we need to collect is in desperate need of an update. According to the United Nations:

The lack of data and information on disability and the situation of persons with disabilities at the national level contribute to the invisibility of persons with disabilities in official statistics. This presents a major obstacle to achieving development planning and implementation that is inclusive of persons with disabilities. In particular, to be internationally comparable, data should be collected in line with international standards. Data collected can be used the implementation and monitoring of internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Indeed as with other disability advocates, at LiveWorkPlay we are eager to challenge our cities, provinces, and country to meet and surpass the enlightened standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But we first need to know more about where we are at before we can set goals and measure the impact of our collective efforts.

  • Including persons with invisible disabilities in society and development

Persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities represent a significant proportion of the world’s population. Millions of people worldwide have mental health conditions and an estimated one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Almost one million people die due to suicide every year, and it is the third leading cause of death among young people. Persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities often face stigma and discrimination (World Health Organization), as well as experience high levels of physical and sexual abuse that occur in a range of settings. 

At LiveWorkPlay we know from experience as well as what we have learned from mentors like Al Condeluci that the experience of stigma and isolation and its related serious health consequences are best defeated through supporting the growth of social capital. Although various interventions can help, the barriers posed by the experience of “difference” cannot be legislated from existence. Real change comes from people getting to know each other, which always reveals that what we have in common is more important than our differences. Shared interests can never be discovered if people are not given the opportunity to meet! This basic reality underlies our efforts to advocate for the end of segregation and our support for inclusive practices.