Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Strategies for Competent and Ethical Disability Law Advocacy

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 from 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM (EST) is the 2nd annual Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) Conference Fundraiser. 

Please join myself, and others, as we discuss issues related to disability advocacy and the law. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Consultations of interest to Disability Community

There are currently a number of consultations with the federal government that are of interest to the disability community. Details and links to participate are listed below: 

1. From now until February 2017 the government is consulting with Canadians around planned accessibility legislation. To find background information on this process as well options for participating, Canadians can visit the website

2. Public consultations are also underway to help shape a national strategy on housing. Canadians can share ideas, take a survey, and submit their ideas in writing prior to October 21, 2016. 

3. Between October 6th and November 4th 2016 the government is gathering feedback about changes to Employment insurance (EI) and caregiving benefits

4. In advance of the next federal budget the government is consulting Canadians about budget priorities. To take part, visit the #Budget2017 website. 

5. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is consulting with Canadians around efforts to modernize rules that govern the charitable sector. Of specific interest for the non-profit sector are rules that govern political activities. To learn more about this and to be part of this important process visit the CRA website

6. The government is also set to consult Canadians about poverty reduction strategies (in 2017). For the time being, Canadians can access background and related information on this issue and the upcoming process. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Coalition for Change Nominated for Ottawa Social Impact Award!

The work of the Coalition driving the movement to change the gift and asset limits for ODSP recipients in Ontario has been nominated for an Ottawa Social Impact Award

The Ottawa Social Impact Awards are a partnership between the City of Ottawa and Impact Hub Ottawa to highlight Ottawa-based initiatives that have the potential for lasting impact, emphasize the power of collective action, and recognize social innovation aimed at shaking up the status quo. 

For more on the work of the gifts and assets collation please visit the website, and to vote for this initiative please visit the Ottawa Social Impact Award website

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ottawa Book Launch! Disability Politics in a Global Economy: Essays in Honour of Marta Russell

Please join us Thursday October 20th from 4 to 6 PM at the University of Ottawa (Fauteux Hall, FTX570) for the launch of Disability Politics in a Global Economy. 

Please RSVP:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Public Consultations on the future of the Huronia Regional Centre

From now until September 20, 2016 we have the opportunity to share feedback on what the province of Ontario should do with the 175 acres of land that were once the Huronia Regional Centre

Ontario officially closed the last of its institutions for individuals with intellectual disabilities in 2009. Since this time, the province has quietly rid itself of many of these sites. 

For example, all 354 acres of Rideau Regional Centre (in Smiths Falls) were sold through the Ontario Realty Corporation in 2011 for $100,000. With the private buyer planning to build a residential seniors complex. While South Western Regional Centre (in Chatham) was sold for a reported $150,000 and recently demolished with plans to develop separate parcels of land for hobby farms. 

Yet the sale of these sites leaves activists and survivors with questions about how the redevelopment of these sites, particularly to private buyers, erases histories of abuse and the lived experiences of inmates. Given how private buyers have trivialized and exploited the history of these spaces south of the boarder, there are serious concerns the province needs to address. 

There is no question these sites were oppressive and abusive. While there has been a successful class action lawsuit on behalf of survivors and the province has apologized, the province's redevelopment of these sites has helped erase these spaces and what survivors endured within them. More on the complexities of the redevelopment process can be found in a chapter I co-authored with Jijian Voronka in the book Disability Incarcerated

These sites, while horrific, are an important part of the history of disability in this province, and speak to one of the many ways incarceration has been packaged and sold as a policy solution (a practice that continues today through various policy responses to disability). Please take a moment and take advantage of this opportunity to let the province know that respecting and preserving this history is important. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Lights... Camera... Attitude!

If you're interested in disability, arts, and culture, check out Lights... Camera... Attitude! Funded by the RBC Foundation and out of Ryerson's Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education, this research explores a wide range of issues including disability representation, the role of arts and culture in political change, and the role of audience members in this process. 

This is a great foundational piece for those interested in disability arts and representation, disability studies, activism, and disability culture. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review - "Working Men's Bodies"

My Review of John Field's book, Working Men's Bodies: Work Camps in Britain, 1880-1940 is now posted on the Humanities and Social Sciences Online. It can be found in the H-Disability section, which explores historical issues around the experiences of disability. The full book review can be found here

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Gifts & Assets Ontario: Action to Support Disabled Persons Receiving ODSP

Many people are under the assumption that those receiving the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) have all of their immediate needs covered. But this is not the case as the maximum amount an ODSP recipient can access ($1,110 per month) puts ODSP recipients on and/or below the poverty line. 

Consider the following: 

  • In 2014 the average expenditure for housing was $1617 and $675 for food - way below the maximum level an ODSP recipient can receive.

  • Cuts and a failure to keep pace with inflation have meant that ODSP payments have failed to reflect the cost of living. In fact, it would require a 25% increase to the rate a single person receives for ODSP to even be worth what it was in 1994. 

Additionally, there are costs disabled persons incur that are not adequately covered by ODSP. These include: 

  1. Safe and accessible housing.
  2. Adequate and healthy foods.
  3. Adaptive equipments and accessibility needs.
  4. Transportation related costs. 
  5. Fee-for-service disability supports.
  6. Clothing and recreational expenses. 

While we certainly need to raise the rates for ODSP recipients, we also need to do away with outdated regulations that prevent persons on ODSP from receiving gifts and assets. This is a quick fix that the province of Ontario could implement immediately (like BC has done) to better support the economic well being of ODSP recipients.  

How can you help? 

  • Visit the Gifts and Assets website to learn more.
  • Join the coalition for change. 
  • Follow Gifts & Assets on Twitter.
  • Share information about this effort with your networks. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Housing Trust for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities in Ottawa-Carleton

I was fortunate enough to work as a part of a wonderful team of researchers for a recent exploratory study on the feasibility of a housing trust for persons with intellectual disabilities in the Ottawa-Carleton region. 

Through Citizen Advocacy Ottawa, our research team worked with individuals, stakeholders, and advocates to explore the housing needs of persons with intellectual disabilities as well as how the establishment of a local housing trust would help to address the housing crisis. 

Some of the key findings from this research include: 

  • The ageing population, both in terms of caregivers and disabled adults, has created an urgent need to identify and implement innovative housing models, like a housing trust, in this region.  

  • Housing trusts are a part of a broader housing continuum that can offer greater options for independent living and affordable housing. 

  • Community members need a strong continuum of housing choice to ensure inclusion and personal autonomy.  

  • Existing gaps within parallel areas of disability support require policy makers to proactively work to promote a holistic lens where disability supports are concerned. 

  • It is vital that future housing models separate housing costs from from support costs to ensure conflicting interests are minimized and that housing requirements can be met using various sources of funding. 

The full research report can now be accessed online

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Disability Politics in a Global Economy - Available for pre-order

Disability Politics in a Global Economy is now available for pre-order. 

I'm incredibly excited to be a part of this book, which examines the legacy of Marta Russell
This interdisciplinary collection, which helps situate the marginalization of disabled bodies, draws on the work of scholars and activists interested in law, political economy, education, and disability studies. 
Marta Russell scholarship and activism have left an important mark where disability rights are concerned, and as the chapters in this collection illustrate, her insights continue to shape the disability rights movement. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Exploring Innovative Housing Solutions in Ottawa

In the fall of 2015 I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of a research team looking into the housing needs of adults with intellectual disabilities in Ottawa. 

I recently had the opportunity to talk a bit about this research with CBC Morning Ottawa. Here is a link to our interview

This research was made possible through Citizen Advocacy Ottawa  and the Housing Task Force

Monday, March 28, 2016

Disability, Exploitation, and Work

While it's not a new issue, exploitive labour practices for disabled folks in Canada continues to get sporadic media coverage. Most recently, a piece appeared on about these practices. 

This piece, which I am quoted in, touches on my own research around sheltered workshops. It also includes insight from Dr. Ravi Malholtra - who has been instrumental in addressing permits that allow employers to pay disabled employees below the minimum wage. 

It is important to continue to address these forms of economic exploitation as these archaic practices persist (and even thrive) where disabled bodies are concerned. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Problematizing How we "See" Down Syndrome

As World Down Syndrome Day approaches (March 21st) there are bound to be campaigns aimed at Down Syndrome awareness and inclusion. While well intentioned, it's important that these efforts are contextualized to ensure they do not perpetuate or reinforce stereotypes. 

With this in mind, the #HowDoYouSeeMe campaign strikes me as particularly problematic. In short, this video narrated by a woman with Down syndrome is shot almost entirely using a famous, white, non-disabled woman to demonstrate all the things folks with Down Syndrome do. The reveal at the end is that the reflection in the mirror is that of a woman with Down Syndrome - and the catch is that we should "see" people first. While this plays on notions of personhood and disabled status (there are many pieces on the politics person-first language that are well worth the read), the ultimate take away is that we should not see Down syndrome. Yet, historic and contemporary resistance to the physical characteristics associated with Down syndrome are important considerations that this campaign completely ignores. 

There are many reasons this is problematic, and disability rights advocates quickly responded to voice their concerns (a specific thank you to @erabrand for our conversation and shared insights here). However, my specific discomfort with this campaign is the ways in which it ignores historical context around the physical features associated with Down syndrome and subsequent attempts to correct and erase these. 

In his paper "Observations on an Ethnic Classification of Idiots" John Langdon Down (sometimes uncritically embraced as the "father" of Down syndrome) situated Down Syndrome in relation to the physical characteristics of various "ethnic standards" suggesting the presence of Down syndrome was a kind of "retrogression" linked to non-European races. Of note are how these foundational ideas still persist in language around Down syndrome and practices aimed at erasing and/or diminishing these physical features. For example, both tongue reduction and facial reconstruction have been touted as means to diminish the physical features of Down syndrome. 

Folks with Down syndrome have been (and continue to be) subject to invasive and abusive interventions aimed at minimizing Down syndrome and making them appear less disabled to the outside world. Given this, it is especially important that any awareness campaign does not erase the physical features associated with Down syndrome and instead promotes inclusion that is based on "seeing" and embracing our peers as they are. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Dyslexia, Disability Simulation, & Media Coverage

It’s not often I notice dyslexia trending on social media, so when I saw it this morning I was intrigued. I was disappointed to learn dyslexia was trending and getting all kinds of press because of a new simulation that uses a computer code to continually scramble letters within the text. I’ll be honest; I got my hopes up and thought this might actually be a story that mattered – maybe a story about building a more inclusive curriculum or supporting invisible disabilities in the work place. Needless to say, dyslexia wasn’t trending for either one of those reasons.  It turns out it was trending because it seems folks cannot get enough of disability simulations. The news that a coder had created an experience to mimic how a friend described dyslexia, was enough to really excite a lot of people. But there are so many aspects to this code, disability simulation, media coverage, and the public response to these types of things that are problematic. Below are a few of my quick (and messy) thoughts on why this bothers me... 

First, let me start with the obvious, there is nothing new about jumbling up words so non-dyslexic folks can experience what it’s like for dyslexic folks when they read. I’ve lost count of how many times this has been done and framed as some innovate insight into the dyslexic mind. This may not be something a coder has done before, but even still, why exactly is this newsworthy now?

Second, the lived experience of disability varies. Each person will have a different experience and this experience can and will change over time. There is no one standard set of experiences that illustrate what it’s like to read with learning disabilities or dyslexia.  Also learning disability and dyslexia are more than simply jumbled words for readers. This actually matters quite a bit because covering dyslexia in this way reinforces stereotypes about dyslexia and in doing so you leave little room for the wide range of experiences and individualized accommodations.

Third, by shifting the discussion to “what the world looks like to them” you also end up framing disability related barriers as inevitable. If this is how dyslexic folks see words, what can really be done about it besides feel sorry for us? It turns out quite a bit. There is a growing and endless list of things that can be done to make things more accessible for dyslexic folks. Dyslexic folks don’t struggle in school and work because they are incapable of learning and working –they struggle because they are faced with countless (removable & preventable) barriers. If you really want to know what it’s like to face disability related barriers listen to dyslexic folks, respect their individual needs, and stop questioning their need for accommodation.

Fourth this kind of simulation ignores the complexity of the brain and a whole body of research, literature, and self-advocacy that works to highlight the value inherent in the diversity of our brains. There are real benefits reflected in this diversity. Yet these kinds of simulations completely ignore this.

There is a growing body of work that problematizes these kinds of disability simulations, for a number of reasons, including those I’ve outlined above. What is needed now is for individuals and the media to start giving space for coverage around dyslexia (and other disabilities) that is reflective of the very real systemic and attitudinal barriers that prevent dyslexic folks from accessing the same opportunities as their peers.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

E.T. Kingsley Historical Archive

For those interested in disability history, particularly those interested in efforts by scholars, historians, and activists to uncover "hidden" histories of disability, the launch of the E.T. Kingsley Historical Archive is exciting. 

In this unique digital archive (and the forthcoming book under contract with UBC press) Dr. Ravi Malhotra and Dr. Benjamin Isitt explore the life and career of American-Canadian Eugene T. Kingsley. 

What many do not know is that Eugene T. Kingsley, who was a central leader of the Socialist Party of Canada, was also a double amputee. This now visible aspect of his life illustrates important intersections between class, disability and socialism in the Pacific Northwest. This online historical archive provides a rich and accessible glimpse into aspects of his life which until now were almost entirely absent from the historical record.