Include, organize, celebrate, and take action: The United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities

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Sometimes at the food hamper program people trust us enough to tell us the story about why they need a food hamper. The other day, a woman called in needing a hamper delivered because of a disability. She experiences light sensitive epilepsy, meaning when she is outdoors too long she could have a seizure. This makes things very difficult for her; what are simple tasks for some people, like running errands or bringing her kids to school, are always potentially dangerous. It also makes it nearly impossible for her to hold a job. Since her disability is invisible–meaning that just by looking at her one would not know she has a disability–she must deal with people who may not believe she actually has a disability at all. Many people experience different kinds of disabilities which may or may not be evident, and living in a society which tends to be structured for people without disabilities means they face many barriers to living a healthy and fulfilling life.

Today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and this year’s theme is “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.” While the provincial government has made some headway by passing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which is working towards eliminating physical and social barriers for people with disabilities, there’s still a long way to go.

People with disabilities often face barriers to finding employment, transportation, adequate housing, and even social participation. On their website, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities states, “in Canada, disability and poverty are synonymous: poverty can lead to disability and disability can lead to poverty.” This expresses the cycle that many Canadians with disabilities experience: when people are living in poverty, chronic conditions and disabilities become exacerbated, making day to day tasks and earning an income harder to accomplish. Like we’ve discussed before, eating a healthy diet—especially if you have dietary restrictions or diabetes—can be expensive, making it much harder to live a healthy life. Items like assistive devices and medication are also expensive, and can take money away from rent or food. Speaking of rent, there’s a serious shortage of accessible units in affordable housing in Waterloo Region, meaning that sometimes people need to sit on waitlists for an extended period of time, living in situations that do not meet their needs.

At food hampers, we meet people with disabilities every day who have trouble earning enough income to live a healthy life. In fact, just over 20% of the hampers we distribute every year are given to people collecting ODSP as their main source of income. This doesn’t even include people who are on a disability pension through CPP, or who are receiving worker’s compensation or private insurance for an injury or disability. One step towards helping people with disabilities overcome barriers would be to raise ODSP rates to accommodate higher costs; it’s very difficult to deal with the stress of living on low income, especially while dealing with another physical or mental disability.

On this International Day for Persons with Disabilities, celebrate the accomplishments of the disability rights movement in Canada, and remember that there’s still work to be done. When people with disabilities become more independent, all of society benefits. Whether or not you are currently living with a disability, chances are you or someone you love will live with one at some point in life, whether it will take the form of depression, a temporary injury, or acquiring arthritis with age, to name a few examples. If you are not experiencing a disability now, chances are eliminating barriers could help you directly in the future.

Click here to read the press release in full from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

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One Response to “Include, organize, celebrate, and take action: The United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities”

  1. Day 5: The Gift of Health « Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] way than you have before. Think about how income, work environment, whether or not you have a disability, and where you live can affect your physical and mental health and well-being. Taking action to […]

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