Encouraging Abilities Podcast

A podcast devoted to the developmental disability community is brought to you by the Developmental Disabilities Association (DDA). DDA has been an advocate and supporter of this vulnerable part of society since 1952. We operate over 50 group homes, child development centres, and drop-in programs in Vancouver and Richmond, British Columbia. Today, we support over 1.800 people with developmental disabilities and their families each year.

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Wednesday Feb 15, 2023

Roshni Kashyap was born to make food. The young woman with Down syndrome started a chutney business and is poised to launch a cookbook. However, she has many other talents and her whole life to explore them. Including publishing a book of poetry. Available on Amazon is Don't Forget You're Beautiful.

Thursday Feb 02, 2023

Not even two years old, Kello Inclusive Modeling Agency, based in Edmonton already has some massive brands seeking them out. But what's more important is the clients they represent.  We chat with founder Katie MacMillan.

Wednesday Jan 25, 2023

B.C. is a leader when it comes to accessibility. Just ask The Rick Hansen Foundation's Brad McCannell. However, attitudes still need to shift in order to guarantee inclusion for everyone, and that means making noise so everyone is heard. 

His Name is Nicholas

Wednesday Jan 11, 2023

Wednesday Jan 11, 2023

Inspired by an accident ten years ago that left her brother with a life-changing intellectual disability, a young B.C. artist creates a book about inclusion. DDA chats with Invermere's Veronika Kitzul

Friday Oct 21, 2022

Ableism is an issue. From inadequate designs to being left out or looked down upon, ableism prevents many from being included in everyday life. The Office of the BC Human Rights Commissioner and Disability Alliance BC have joined forces to address the issue and created a new awareness campaign called Rewrite the Rules.

Thursday Oct 20, 2022

Accessibility affects many people, and even one day, perhaps yourself. In this Encouraging Abilities Podcast, we connected with Dr. Jaimie Borisoff who runs a development program at BCIT with an eye on designing better wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment that helps people stay included.

Tuesday Oct 11, 2022

Accessibility should not be an afterthought. Buildings and spaces should not be designed for people with no disabilities only. Because, as Karin Pasqua of Meaningful Access Consultants says, we are all going to be affected at some point in our lives by accessibility issues. With that in mind, we need to look at design as universal before shovels hit the dirt.

Friday Oct 07, 2022

The Developmental Disabilities Association's Executive Director Alanna Hendren talks about the association's 70th anniversary, where the organization has been, and where it's headed in the 21st century. A staunch advocate for people with developmental disabilities, Alanna Hendren has been involved in this sector for over 40 years.

Wednesday Sep 21, 2022

Dr. Laverne Jacobs is making Canada proud. Not only has she published one of the first books on disability law in Canada, but has recently been elected to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. And...she has another book in the works!
Evan Kelly  0:05  Thank you again for joining us on the Developmental Disabilities Association's encouraging abilities podcast. I am your host DDA communications manager Evan Kelly. Joining me today is Dr. Laverne Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs is a full professor at the University of Windsor Faculty of Law and a former assistant Associate Dean rather, she teaches researches rights all in the areas of disability rights law, administrative law, human rights laws She has published and presented both here in Canada and around the world. And now Dr. Jacobs has been in the news fairly recently, she was elected to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The committee monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by countries that have ratified it. No UN CRPD committee members are independent experts like Dr. Jacobs selected from countries around the world. The special thing about this as Dr. Jacobs is the first ever Canadian elected to serve on this committee. And if that's not enough, Dr. Jacobs founded and directs the Law, Disability and social change project. It's a research and public advocacy center at the Windsor law that looks that works to foster and develop inclusive communities. So it's, so thank you very much for joining me today. Dr. J. Jacobs, it's really quite an honor to have you here.
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  1:27  Thank you. Thank you for having me on the show. And it's a pleasure to be here.
Evan Kelly  1:31  Now those accomplishments go on and on. When you hear that, you know, someone talked about that. How does that make you feel?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  1:41  Well, I think that as with most people, it can be a bit awkward to be placed in the spotlight. But I primarily feel very grateful to have had the opportunity and the experiences that I've had. I'm grateful and excited to be able to use those experiences to contribute to the the task of furthering the rights of persons with disabilities. And overall, ultimately, I think that it's not the number of experiences that you have, but the ways in which you use them to contribute to the community. That's important.
Evan Kelly  2:12  Yes, absolutely. No. So what right straight to that to the UN committee? What does it mean to you to be not just elected to it, obviously, there's a very select handful of people, but to be the first Canadian on on this committee, how does that, what does that mean to you?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  2:29  Yeah, well, thank you for the question, placing everything just in a bit of context, I'd say, to start that my concern for disability rights is prompted by my academic and professional experience, as well as by my lived experience as a person with physical disabilities, I use a wheelchair. And I've seen significant and very positive turns in legal academia. One in particular, is that I've seen, people have begun to realize in a much more holistic way, the challenges faced by others. But I think it's not only in academia, but I've also seen this in the practice of law and in society more generally. And so the more that we accept the intersecting identities and growing knowledge, that the growing knowledge about individuals and their experiences, the more that we see that equality rights may look different for different people, because of their different lived experiences. So tying that back to what it means to be the first Canadian elected to the CRPD, I can say that it's a great honour to be part of a committee that works to define equality rights. And set international norm, but also to do that, at this very point in time when there's such a growing recognition of intersectionality. You know, as you've mentioned, we're independent experts. And so I don't represent views of Canada. But I think that coming from Canada and having been an academic here, where I've had the chance to reflect and analyze on various experiences of disability rights law, really gives me a backdrop that I can draw from, I mean, of course, as with any country, there's, you know, positive elements and negative elements. But we certainly have a unique tapestry that I can draw from. So yeah, so it's a, it's a great honor, I think to be the first Canadian elected.
Evan Kelly  4:28  So how many how many countries have ratified this? How many involved?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  4:35  183 countries.
Evan Kelly  4:37  And growing I hope.
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  4:39  Yeah. Yeah. And growing. A very large number. Yeah.
Evan Kelly  4:45  So can you tell me a little bit about your role within the committee?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  4:50  Yes, absolutely. So the committee does four main things, I've mentioned a couple of them already. Under the optional protocol is received complaints from individuals and groups, and it also receives inquiries. So requests to conduct inquiries into states, when there are allegations of serious and systemic violations of the convention, the CRPD also conducts regular reviews of countries. So countries file reports, first two years after the convention has come into force for that. And then every four years after that, so the CRPD committee conducts these constructive dialogue with the states parties about their report. And the reports really are kind of an overview of how the country is doing in terms of putting in place mechanisms, etc, to further the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Another major function of the CRPD committee is to provide general comments. And so these general comments serve as interpretive guidance for, for how to interpret the various articles of the convention. So there are eight general comments, you know, the most recent one actually just came out last week dealing with the rights to work and employment. But there are eight general comments in total right now. And they deal with topics such as inclusive education, women and girls with disabilities and other topics. And they really are important in terms of serving as, you know, guidance for states parties, when they are trying to determine, you know, the best way to understand what the convention actually is trying to get across. And I think the final thing is that the CRPD fulfills various other functions. So their statements and guidelines that are sometimes issues, just recently, again, this month, there was a set of guidelines issued relating to the institutionalization of persons with disabilities. And you know, I'm sure that DDA is aware of this. So these guidelines are created after several months of consultation. And the institutionalization, you know, is of huge importance to many. So yeah. So, sitting on the committee would mean, being involved in some way with these additional, these additional functions, such as the creation of guidelines, etc. So, as a member of the committee, I'd be involved in these broad areas, these four broad areas. And, yeah, I think I think that's about it. If I can just say, I think it's wonderful that you're asking this question, because I think that was such a new role. It's sometimes somewhat unclear as to what committee members do. You know, people sometimes think, people sometimes think that the role is one of advocacy before the CRPD Committee, which it's not so I've had people for example, reach out to me to, to see if I can, you know, represent them, which I can't. But yeah, these are some of the primary things that members of the committee do.
Evan Kelly  8:31  Right, just just a great big overarching look at things. Law and disability your book law on disability in Canada was published in 2021. So when did you begin working on it?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  8:43  Thanks so much for the question. So yes, law and disability in Canada. It's the first Canadian textbook on disability in Canada, and it was published last year. And I think that in some ways, I started writing it when I first created my seminar in law and disability, which I teach at Windsor law, possibly even a bit before that, is I prepared for that, that first seminar. But I brought together five colleagues from across the country to put together this book. And we started writing in 2017. So it took four years to create the book. And this was primarily due to the original research that we collectively put into the book. There wasn't much written on some of the topics, not much written at all and some of the topic areas that we wanted to cover in terms of the interaction between people with disabilities and the law. Some of the topics that we cover include community living, social benefits, mental health and specialized courts, and the criminal law and justice system and persons with disabilities. We really wanted to create a book that would fill gaps in the law school curriculum, because not much is taught in law schools about persons with disabilities and their every day, you know engagements with the law. So we also wanted to, we wanted to fill these gaps. But we also wanted to foster respect for persons with disabilities in the law in the legal context, regardless of the area of the law. So those were some of our goals. And yeah, it took us four years to put together this first edition. 
Evan Kelly  10:21  Now, is this now a book part of the law curriculum in many schools, or is this sort of with just with Windsor? Or is it a book that anybody can just pick up and read?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  10:34  Well, it's actually a book that anyone can pick up and read. But it's designed to be a textbook within the law school curriculum, we have had a considerable amount of take up already. So we're quite excited about that. And we also had invitations to speak about the book, you know, etc. So, the book, one final thing I can say is that the book is not only designed for the law school curriculum, it's also designed for people who teach in areas that are kind of adjacent to law. So people in human resources, people in areas like social work, Disability Studies, of course. And so there, there's quite a wide potential audience for the book.
Evan Kelly  11:23  Now, you mentioned you working with five other authors, all legal experts in the field. So how do you define who gets to write about what and how do you, how do you sort of put that all together in a cohesive fashion?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  11:34  Yeah, it's a great question. We wrote primarily in our fields of interest. So this helped, helped us because these were areas in which we already had expertise. But it also helps the book to cut across the law school curriculum. So for example, I'm very interested in equality rights law and the interactions of individuals with government. And so this is an area of law that's known as administrative law. But what's unique about what I do, the work that I do is that I examine how questions of disability equality or disability inequality exists, and how they can be dealt with, in government itself. So it's really at the points where people with disabilities interact with the government, such as through security, securing disability benefit, workers, compensations, etc, that I focus on. So I focused on a chapter relating to equality and persons with disabilities, generally. So there's a chapter that, that looks at equality law, human rights, law, etc. and international law. But I also have a chapter that looks at Community Living, which was a particular interest of mine. So it traces the history of community living, examines key cases in Canada and internationally, and consider some topics related to living in the community and acquiring appropriate support, including during emergencies, such as COVID, which went on for, you know, quite a bit of time covered quite a bit of the period of time when we were writing. My colleagues similarly wrote on areas of expertise, because their areas of expertise, so that included criminal law, employment law, mental health and illness, women and girls with disabilities, etc.
Evan Kelly  13:37  I really liked that community living is a bit of a focus for yourself, from a legal point of view, obviously, that's a huge one for us. We're we're all about that community living and you may not be aware, we just launched a documentary called Doing the Impossible. The story of the Developmental Disabilities Association. It's, it's really, really a great piece that, you know, I shouldn't be sitting here plugging our own thing, but here we go. But that's available on our website at develop.bc.ca. And, you know, sort of goes from 1950 to or our founder sort of becomes the spark for community living here in British Columbia and beyond and deinstitutionalization. It's quite a quite a good story.
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  14:23  Yeah, I just see, I just see information about it on the on the website. And I'm looking forward to having a chance to seeing the documentary in full. In the chapter that I wrote, and I was very surprised to find how little had been written about the law relating to community living. But in Canada, in the chapter that I wrote, I do use BC legislation actually as one of my examples.
Evan Kelly  14:51  Fantastic. Moving on a bit now. You've been a lawyer for over 20 years. Since you started are disability rights better, are they are we more inclusive, is there anything that's concerning right now that needs to be addressed in your mind?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  15:03  Well I think that, yes, I mean, yes to both. I mean, I think that there have been positive advances. But I think that there are also challenges that we need to address. So what Canada, I think has done well, is that it's had legislation in place for quite some time. So historically, we see legislation relating to the equality rights of persons with disabilities being enacted, you know, from the 1960s onward. So, things like the Human Rights Code coming into place in 1962, or the Ontario blind persons Rights Act, coming into place in 1970. The Human Rights Code, sorry, I was referring to was Ontario, but we see kind of an early recognition of disability. At the same time, I think that even if historically, we've had this legislation, a lot of legislation has come through the work of advocates. So lawyers, pushing for lawyers and others, not always lawyers that are members of the community pushing to have disability added, for example, as a prohibited ground under the charter or sometimes in legislation itself, the creation of accessibility legislation, etc. So I think that in terms of what we've seen, go well, you know, I think we kind of have a long history a kind of a long foundation. But I think that in terms of improvement, there are, you know, a myriad of concerns that have been highlighted by COVID-19. And that really needs to be addressed. And I think that we need to not always have to rely on advocates right? So I think it would be good if governments were a bit more proactive. Yeah. And moving these issues forward. So, um, so yeah, I guess in my 20 years as a lawyer, and as a law professor, I would say that there are still issues that need to be addressed, and that perhaps the process could be improved as well.
Evan Kelly  17:23  They make an interesting point about, I'm not sure, people would necessarily understand what you mean, by saying, we don't have to just rely on advocates. It's sort of, do you mean, we sort of you need to get to the issues before they happen, in a sense?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  17:40  Well, yeah, I mean, that we should be creating pathways. And I'm not saying that they're not there, they just could be stronger. So creating pathways so that it's easier to recognize what these issues are. So if you take accessibility legislation, as an example, the whole idea there is to have kind of a proactive way of knocking down barriers, even before they become barriers, you know. And so I think that that's a start. But that type of approach, which is more proactive, could be implemented in other areas as well. So for example, I think one of the kinds of substantive issues that we're seeing a lot, you know, we're having a lot of challenges within the disability community deal with poverty, right. So, you know, the impact of poverty on people with disabilities, and people from intersectional backgrounds, so women with disabilities, people of color with disabilities, and I can, as an academic, I've seen that it's, you know, quite clear that the impact of poverty has led to, you know, all kinds of negative implications for people with disabilities. So, we need to have avenues where those types of issues are addressed. Before, you know, the worst happens. And instead, we've seen, I think, quite a few instances where people are being forced to choose ways to, you know, support themselves or in their lives, etc. Because there isn't that kind of support or avenue for change readily available.
Evan Kelly  19:24  So we almost need to, you know, I've been using the word universality more than then accessibility or even inclusion or because accessibility in a lot of ways. To me says we've designed something, oh, but now we have to go back and redesign it because now we have to make it accessible. But if we approach laws, if we approach anything in terms of design, or, you know, human rights, what have you from a universal perspective, maybe that's just a better way to go.
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  19:58  Yeah, I agree. I agree with that. Yeah.
Evan Kelly  20:02  So can you tell us about law disability and social change project?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  20:07  Yeah, absolutely. So the law disability and social change project is a research and public advocacy center at University of Windsor Faculty of Law. We work to foster more inclusive communities. So kind of building on what you've just mentioned, our goal is really to make sure that communities are not just, you know, accessible, they don't have space for people with disabilities, but that they actually are, you know, open and welcoming and understand different ways of being. So that's one of, that's what our primary goal is, we have three main pillars, we conduct research, and I would say that's probably our our major pillar. So we conduct research into various topics relating to law on disability. So disability discrimination, generally, we've looked at transportation and equality. We've looked at other areas as well, communities, marginalized communities and disability benefits. Our second area is public engagement. So mainly education, and I can give you an example. We get into the community we, we have held information seminars in the local rehabilitation hospital, for example, online disability topics. And public advocacy is our third pillar. So you know, that's just kind of sharing that education, kind of knowledge. We can be with other other NGO groups, or it can be on our own. So those are the main things that that we do.
Evan Kelly  21:56  Now, in terms of education, obviously, you're a lot of your audience, are university students in law, do you target any high schools or anything like that, where some of this information?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  22:09  It's no, actually high school, that is a no but high school. They're not on our list. But I was, what we do is, we reach out to people beyond University as well. So you know, we have been involved and invited to conduct workshops, for example, on some of the topics in the textbook. So the loss ability and social change project, while it incorporates students and students are involved, the students, researchers, they are not necessarily the end users. In fact, you know, some of the work that we've done has been, you know, research commissioned by government, for example, where I'll be the principal researcher, and the students will assist. So, so yes, we do reach out, but we reach out more broadly to community than just university students.
Evan Kelly  23:07  Gotcha. So what are some of the more recent projects from the project?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  23:14  Well, we contributed to the development of the accessible Canada Act. And so that was done at the time when the statute was being created. A recent study from this year dealt with the Social Security tribunal where we examined the experiences of individuals who were seeking to appeal their denial of CPP benefits. So Canada Pension Plan disability benefits. And we looked more particularly at a navigator system that has been set up by the Tribunal to see you know, whether it was working well and how it could, how it could benefit more effectively people with disabilities and from other marginalized communities. Other things that we've been involved with, we regularly provide summaries of key Human Rights Tribunal decisions dealing with disability. In 2021, last year, we created an annotated accessible Canada Act, which is a free resource available on our website. We've also created, there are a number of things. But one last one I'll mention is we during COVID-19, we created a database of you know, news stories, news articles dealing with COVID, and persons with disabilities, that that was really the principal way to get information at the time, there were no cases etc. And that's also available through our website. So we are involved in a number of different types of projects. 
Evan Kelly  24:48  Now, you mentioned you're an author, of course, that you mentioned to me a little while ago about another book you're writing. Can you tell me about that?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  24:58  Sure. Absolutely. I'm currently in the process of writing a book called law and the right of access from litigation to citizen participation. And what it is, is a book that looks at accessibility legislation and its growth. So the move away from kind of human rights adjudicative approaches to approaches that are designed to be more proactive in removing barriers for people with disabilities. In this book, I look at this development, both historically and comparatively. So I look at other countries as well. But I also try to look at and focus on the interaction between people with disabilities, and the government. So there's a lot of consultation in these types of these types of processes for developing accessibility standards. And so I focus on on the ways in which people with disabilities are engaged and the challenges that they face.
Evan Kelly  26:14  When do you expect to be finished that one?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  26:17  Well, that book should be out in late 2023 or early 2024. 
Evan Kelly  26:24  So another solid year work for you then. Are you and any of your cohorts involved in sort of looking at the new proposed disability benefit that the Canadian government is putting together?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  26:36  Oh, that's a good question. So we have not been asked to do any background research but as an academic, I am involved in, you know, conference an academic conference, we'll be discussing the issue. But in terms of, you know, research for this actual the creation of the legislation, no, we haven't been involved in that.
Evan Kelly  27:05  How can organizations like DDA better serve the needs of our community?
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  27:09  Well, I think the best thing that can be done by any organization is to keep in touch with members of the disability community that you, that you serve, and to ensure that you can support those in the community to share their concerns, you know, through the avenues where they need to go. So I believe that listening and effective and sometimes innovative ways of supporting is, is absolutely key.
Evan Kelly  27:35  Okay, well, thanks for tuning in. Our guest today has been Dr. Laverne Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs is a professor at the University of Windsor, Windsor teaching, disability rights law, administrative law, and of course, the first Canadian in history to join the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Really honored to have you on the show today and thanks for joining us.
Dr. Laverne Jacobs  27:58  Thank you, Evan.

Thursday Aug 25, 2022

Rights are usually a foregone conclusion in Canada, however, when it comes to people with disabilities, their rights are sometimes overlooked, or, at best, not really taken into consideration. Accessibility matters, inclusion matters, but making sure these things are enforced and protected takes an entire population to shift its collective outlook. That shift starts with people like Deborah Stienstra, author of About Canada: Disability Rights, Second Edition. Where are we right now, and how far do we have to go?
Evan Kelly  0:04  Welcome to DDA's Encouraging Abilities podcast. I'm your host again DDA communications manager Evan Kelly. Today's podcast we are joined by Deborah Stienstra. Miss Stienstra is a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, where she holds the Juris Loski chair in families and work and is the director of live work well Research Center and Professor rather of political science. Now for many years, she has also been working with the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, and FEM North net, or the feminist northern network, which includes working with a diverse group of women and women who identify as having a disability. With having said all that, she's also the author of the recently published about Canada disability rights, the second edition, not, of course, to mention the first edition that was published in 2012. So thank you for taking the time today to talk to us about Canada and the current landscape of disability rights. So just, when I read all that, what do you think, that seems like an awfully large impressive body of work?
Deborah Stienstra  1:11  Okay, so thanks for that. But really, my work in disability comes from a very different place than sort of the academic and literature pieces that you're talking about. And it comes because I was married, my first husband, partner was a man named Patrick Kellerman, who lived with multiple sclerosis. And together, we had two children and raised two children. And we, I was somebody who worked in women's organizing and thinking and research. And he worked in the disability community, for Disabled Peoples' International in Winnipeg. And as his MS progressed, there were more and more barriers, challenges, creativities required to live the life we wanted to live together as a family. And I finally got to the point where I thought, How come I'm separating what I think and research about from what I live day to day as a family member with this, you know, of somebody with disabilities. And so we first started working together on some research, and then when he retired as a result of the escalation of his MS. I kept going in disability rights and research. And it's been a passion for me, and as my body has become more... as I've lived with more impairment, and had to adjust myself to living with disabilities. You know, it's, it's very personal. So yes, I do a lot of things. But really, this is deeply personal. As it is for many of us, I know.
Evan Kelly  3:17  Yeah, that's, you know, once I, when I started, you know, working at Developmental Disabilities Association here in Vancouver, about, I think I've been here for about three years now. Is, is just how many people in Canada actually identify with a disability. It's somewhere around 25%, I believe, and it's just, that's, that's a very large piece of our audience, or just a very large piece of the country. And that, and that's where, obviously, rights need to be more clearly defined and understood. Now, about Canada disability rights that was published in 2021. Now, since the first edition you've seen, have you seen substantial changes in government policy supports or even just some some of the prevailing attitudes in the public? I guess, in a nutshell, have the past 10 years accomplished anything.
Deborah Stienstra  4:04  I think in general, the reason I wanted to write a second edition is because some things had changed. And they were, in my view, substantive changes. So I'm not sure that we could see substantive changes in the number of people who live with poverty, or who are unemployed, or you know, who experienced violence in their lives. And we've seen all of that exacerbated through the COVID pandemic. But what we have seen, I think, is an increasing recognition and awareness of experiences, of the importance of including experiences of women, men and gender diverse people with disabilities, as well. I think we're seeing an increasing response by some governments in Canada, through legislation, so obviously, you know, Ontario has had the Ontarians With Disabilities Act for more than a decade and a half, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have come on, the federal government came on, and you folks in British Columbia have your own Accessibility Act. And while they're not perfect, I think they show something really, really important about our level of awareness and structural change happening, and I see it in things like accessible documents, I no longer have to explain to people why we need accessible documents, there is - or how to make them accessible, right? Like there's so many more resources and procurement, like buying goods and services that are are accessible through universal or inclusive design, or arguments that I have a much easier time making now. So those are some of the big changes that I've seen.
Evan Kelly  6:11  And you mentioned COVID, in your mind, did that highlight some more issues that needed to be considered?
Deborah Stienstra  6:19  Absolutely, I don't think there was anything new that came out in COVID, that we hadn't known before about the experiences and exclusion, and barriers to access. But what it illustrated was how those get intensified in situations of emergencies, and how people need to be included in thinking through our plans for responding to emergencies. And I think the other thing that that came up was an understanding of the intersectional discrimination that different groups of people with disabilities experience. So there's increasing awareness of racialized people with disabilities, who may be working, for example, in health care systems, or chill children with disabilities, seniors with disabilities who live in long term care homes, indigenous people with disabilities and the different access to services that they have if they live in First Nations communities or Inuit communities than those who may live in urban settings. So what we saw and we did a major research project about policies related to COVID, and disability inclusion. And what we found was there is a opening right now to respond to some of the systemic inequity. And if we don't take action now it's not, it's going to be a long time before we get another sense of, of this opening of awareness.
Evan Kelly  8:21  Yeah, I mean, COVID is one thing. Obviously, these are sort of, you know, natural disasters, if you will, the one thing we experienced here in BC, and became a very important thing for us to sort of notice was we had that heat dome last year, if you recall. And we had over 600 people die as a result. And one thing that we realized is that there needs to be better communication, better understanding between people and those with developmental disabilities. Because in one case, I did talk to this one woman who lost her sister. And it was just they didn't know, they didn't know that her room got that hot, and her sister didn't really know how to communicate that. So when, when it comes to some of these things in creating new policies, I guess where does it, where does that fall into in terms of helping define human rights and protecting lives from these kinds of things?
Deborah Stienstra  9:19  Absolutely. And I think that's that example of the heat dome is a horrific but really clear example of what happens when you don't imagine people with disabilities in your decision making and planning. Right? So we didn't imagine the sister that you talked about in the discussions of how to ensure that there were were cool spaces or that there was built in air conditioning or things like that, and how would we have known? Well, we needed to have her or somebody who could, who was aware of her situation, be at the table, in order to illustrate, sort of what she lives with. And I know that you've had a commission of inquiry and that there have been, there was initially a person with disabilities on that, and that that voice wasn't listen to, that that perspective wasn't included, necessarily. And that's, I think, a bit of a challenge. When people with disabilities offer their expertise, they also need to be listened to. So the inclusion needs to be at the table and in the decision making, and in the follow up.
Evan Kelly  10:43  Yes. Sorry. Go ahead.
Deborah Stienstra  10:46  No, so I was just gonna say, I think that's it's a model for all policy. It is about having people with disabilities or their representatives at the table, when decisions are being made with the resources, including financial resources, and accessibility supports, to support their full participation, and making sure that it's not pro forma, that it isn't just, you know, something that is nice. And we can point to the one person who sits on there, that it's, it's substantive, and that it's listened to, and taken seriously. And, part of the decision making.
Evan Kelly  11:32  Absolutely. Now, you mentioned something in the sort of financial vein, the federal government's, of course, I'm sure you're aware of tabled the new Canada disability income benefit. I'm not entirely sure where it's at at this stage. I think it's been through a second reading. But that's, that might be about it. What, what sort of impact are you hoping for this new bill, assuming it gets pushed through?
Deborah Stienstra  11:53  Yeah, and I think that's still up for grabs. I think it's really important for a portion of people with disabilities. And it's important to also not to look at it as the be all and end all of disability supports. So it targets people with disabilities who don't have access to employment income, and who are lower than retirement age, but older than youth. And so what it could do is make sure that they have a consistent, reliable income, that means that they don't have to go on social assistance. And as we all know, social assistance is where lots of people with disabilities end up because we don't have inclusive workplaces, we don't have appropriate supports. So, and we don't have good mechanisms to provide income for many people with disabilities. So social assistance ends up being where folks end up and that is below poverty wages and below poverty income. And so this, if and I hope we can say when, it becomes law, we'll be able to address some of those gaps.
Evan Kelly  13:23  And so the way it is right now, I get the sense that you feel that the government's on on any level, aren't quite doing enough to support people with disabilities financially.
Deborah Stienstra  13:35  I think that disability isn't something that anybody... it is a bit of a lottery, my body works a particular way. And I then in a society where we don't provide supports related to disabilities, I end up bearing the costs of my differences because the society was built for people who aren't like me. So an example that I often like to use is infrastructure and lights. As a sighted person, I need lights to work in the dark when the room is too dark. I don't even have to ask for it. I can turn the lights on because somebody imagined me there. They imagined me as a sighted person needing lights to do my work. My blind friends don't need lights to do their work. Yet they're paying for the hydro costs to give me lights. Well, why shouldn't we pay, as sighted people and non disabled people, for the supports that allow all of us to participate in society? And that's where I think governments have over responsibility to take tax dollars to use for the benefit of those who haven't been imagined in our society and who have to pay for the costs, the barriers to access that exist as a result.
Evan Kelly  15:22  So let's sort of backtrack. What sort of projects are you working on right now?
Deborah Stienstra  15:28  I have many projects.
Evan Kelly  15:30  That, I'm not surprised.
Deborah Stienstra  15:34  Let me talk about two, I am leading a partnership, sort of, grant related to disabilities and livelihoods in Canada. And it's trying to take a notion of livelihoods which is different than work or employment. it's broader than both of those. And it includes, livelihoods are the ways in which we make a living and a life. And so livelihoods can be about how we barter, how we provide care, how we have market gardens, how we do arts and use those as sources to support ourselves. And so we're looking at how people with disabilities in Canada, in a couple of different areas, help us understand this notion of livelihoods and how it helps us understand both participation and inclusion in society. So we're looking around the area of volunteering and people with disabilities, we're looking at arts and people with disabilities. And the one that I'm in particular focused on is around pre employment supports, and young women with disabilities, and what does it take to address for example, the childcare needs of young women with disabilities or the educational gaps or appropriate supports to ensure better access to income. So that's a project that I'm pretty excited about, we just got noticed that the disability and work conference in November of this year, we'll be presenting a panel on some of our research related to that, and I'm excited about that.
Evan Kelly  17:29  That sounds really good. I don't know if, you're in Ontario, we're out here. But here at DDA, we've got two social enterprises, one of which is our organization called Jobs West, where we actually, we work with employers and clients so that people with developmental disabilities can find and keep jobs. It's a big part of what we do. So it's, it's super, super important. Let's talk a little bit about MAiD the medical assistants long dying this is this is this is a big topic here in Canada right now. Of course, it's DDA we haven't really taken a stance on this. But I'm starting to see other newsrooms around the world publishing content, saying some pretty nasty things about Canada, how we're now practicing eugenics, and killing disabled and poor people. What are your, or your primary concerns when it comes to this kind of a law?
Deborah Stienstra  18:29  Well, I have oh so many concerns. I think that medical assistance in dying as it's come to be developed through the various amendments and changes and law in Canada is one that privileges white people, often who aren't used to having to be dependent or rely on others, to live their lives and don't want to imagine themselves as people who are dependent and so they see that as something they'd like to avoid. Well, for lots of people with disabilities, we know what it's like to, you know, require supports to live our daily lives, whether it's somebody to check in on us or somebody to wipe our bum or change our diaper or somebody to change the catheter or give us food or whatever. And so many of us don't feel as much like we've lost our dignity when we are in those relationships of care and dependency, but see it as sort of an interdependence. And I think what MAiD is doing is creating space for some people to have a choice and I'm glad that some people have that choice, but in other cases, it's creating a situation where folks who haven't been able to get the supports that they need to live or to live well, whether that's because they can't access housing, and they have chemical sensitivities, or because they've had to live so long in poverty, they're just kind of worn out of trying, or they haven't been able to get the medical supports they need. And somebody offers it to them as an option. And it may be somebody in a relationship of trust, or somebody, like the stories that have come up lately about Veterans Affairs, raising it as an option. So to me, medical assistance in dying in those situations, is something that is not a choice, but is a forced situation, we are not able to provide the necessities of life. So people think that their only option is to end their lives. I've called this other times sacrificial citizenship, where people don't, with disabilities, don't want to be seen as a burden to their families. And they've been told that they're a burden on society, or they cost a lot to take care of. And so they sacrificed themselves, well I don't think that's appropriate. So I think, I think it was really troubling to have the substantial changes to MAiD discussed in the middle of a pandemic, where people with disabilities were the ones bearing the heaviest burden of the pandemic barriers. So I think there are lots and lots of problems with this. And and I think the government, the federal government, pushing forward on MAiD full steam, but dragging their feet on the disability benefit is not a very good sign, right? They should be pushing forward on the disability benefit and dragging their feet on medical assistance in dying.
Evan Kelly  22:20  Yes, perhaps a little bit backwards. So I mean, I've been reading some sad stories, similar to what you've just been discussing. So how through Disability Rights do we protect those who may not see another way out of a bad situation, but death probably shouldn't be their option.
Deborah Stienstra  22:40  First, we need to be there for each other. Pierce support is a really, really important part of living with disabilities. And we all feel stronger when we know we're not alone. And it's hard when you feel like you're just being ground down by your day to day existence. So I know behind the scenes, a lot of these public conversations, my colleagues in the disability movement have been advocating and raising funds so that people feel like they have more choice. But that can I mean, with more and more stories coming out, we can't do that in every case. So I think as advocacy organizations, there's a responsibility to continually prod and push and articulate the gaps in care the reasons why this is happening. I think, folks like cat, Catherine for Z and others have just done an exceptional job in having Gabrielle Peters really exceptional jobs in her in raising the concerns, and making sure that we understand that racialized and indigenous people with disabilities are those who experience more of more of the push toward medical assistance and dying, because they often live with more of the poverty and the barriers to access. So I think, you know, listening and supporting and circulating what those folks have been saying is really, really important. And, you know, for those of us who are lucky enough to get invited to speak publicly, and bring it up at every single person, I mean, when I'm interviewed by the press, I often bring it up, because they don't think of me as somebody who is a maids spokesperson, but I think it is not letting those stories go on tooled, like not letting government's step away from the responsibility of the situation they've created.
Evan Kelly  24:53  So what are some of the biggest challenges you face in trying to elicit change on any particular level of government?
Deborah Stienstra  24:59  Governments are very slow moving, frankly. And they are accountable to an electorate regularly, like every four years, and there's always the possibility of not having the same government or the same government with the same priorities. So, for me, governments are only a piece of the advocacy toolkit. I keep my relationships with those bureaucrats inside governments close, because they're the ones who are more stable. But we also reach out to ministers and, in committees and things like that. But I think it's also about using social media, effectively, it's about sharing information. You know, as a researcher, I have access to lots and lots of information. And part of what I see my job is, is to make sure that what we learn needs to be not just shared in formats that policymakers can understand, but in formats that public health folks want to know. So having factsheets or hot topic sheets, or policy briefs or Twitter, you know, bite sized pieces, so really trying to reach out and raise awareness of a lot of these issues.
Now, in general, how was Canada doing in terms of disability rights? Are we on the right road? And obviously, there's, there's problems and a lot of things we've we've talked here, but are we, are we on the right path? Or does something need to be rewritten? I know that in reading some of your bio, you mentioned this universal planning rather than, I mean, because from a disabilities point of view, we often look at making something accessible, which, you know, that sounds good. But coming at it from a universal perspective, rather than just making something accessible at the moment. So I guess it's a sort of a, a big, big blanket question is, do we need to sort of change our perspective? Or keep working on changing our perspectives? Like how far have we got to go?
Right. So we began this conversation by me saying, yeah, the research is fine, but really, this is personal for me. And what I find is, change happens when people can see a personal link. And they can then imagine, when they begin to hear stories of people who are real human beings and the implications of those stories. So the change, I think, Canada is not dissimilar from many other places around the world. Some good, lots of bad. But I have hope, because the advocacy of disabled people together with their families, or the representative organizations, and really pushes when they, we are out on the streets and in a playground. And you see a disabled child on a swing that's been built to be accessible through using inclusive design. It changes your notion of who are disabled who are children, right, because you now include in your picture, this child who may be in a wheelchair, as part of your neighborhood, and I love to tell a story of somebody, a leader in the disability community, Jim Dirksen who recently died. Jim lived in my neighborhood and Winnipeg when I lived there. And Jim was an amazing character. He was a wheelchair user, he had polio when he was younger, he wore very evocative clothes like you always knew where Jim was, but he made, he just drove around my neighborhood. And everybody in the neighborhood knew Jim. And it was no big deal, right? Like, by being present in the neighborhood in house like all the rest of us, he was our neighbor. And that's I think how change happens is when people with disabilities are part of our communities, when we are included without having to make big adaptations or whatever when we use inclusive design in our homes so that people can visit us who may have mobility barriers or you know, when we have scent free environment so that folks with chemical sensitivities can be at discussions and meetings. Those are all ways that we build inclusion and belonging. And we recognize that disability is just part of the range of what human life is about.
Evan Kelly  30:31  I think you wrap that up nicely. I was gonna say if you do have anything else to add, but I think that just sort of hits hits it right on the head. It's all part of it.
Deborah Stienstra  30:39  I think so. Yeah.
Evan Kelly  30:42  Just one thing that your your book about Canada disability rights, Second Edition, where do people find it?
Deborah Stienstra  30:49  You can find it on Fernwood Publishing's website you can also find it in in some stores. It's available... It's available as audio book, as well as a PDF book and hardcover book. So it was my first experience in having an audiobook which was a lovely thing to have this, a woman read my text with lots of things. So there are a number of ways for folks to do it. But Fernwood publishing is the best place to look. So that's where you can find it on Amazon and all those other places.
Evan Kelly  31:30  I believe I did see it there. Yes. But Fernwood publishing is the main one. Okay, well, today we have been listening to a developmental disabilities encouraging abilities podcast. Our guest today has been Deborah Stienstra. Again, author of about Canada disability rights, Second Edition, disability and woman's advocate and professor of political science at the University of Guelph. Once again, we thank you for joining us today.
Deborah Stienstra  31:54  Thanks so much. It's been a pleasure.




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