Advancing disability rights in Canada: 3 takeaways from the latest Generous Futures discussion

A sign reading "Deabled people for future!"
Haweya Fadal
Haweya Fadal is an Alumni Relations Officer at Ryerson University, specializing in content creation.

Did you know 22% or 1 in 5 Canadians have a disability? According to a 2017 Statistics Canada report, 6.2 million people identified as having one or more disabilities. So, how can we create a more inclusive and accessible Canada? What are some socially-made barriers that exclude and harm people with disabilities? How do decisions around funding centre or exclude the voices and experiences of those most affected? These are some of the questions our expert panellists addressed in Generous Futures: Advancing Disability Rights

The final session of season two was moderated by Esther Ignagni, director of Ryerson’s School of Disability Studies. The panellists included Fran Odette, a disability rights activist and educator, Taylor Lindsay-Noel, founder and CEO of Cup of Té and the Hon. Vim Kochhar, Chair of the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons. Each panellist shared their insight on philanthropy’s role in supporting and advancing disability rights throughout the session. 

Here are three takeaways from the conversation:

1. Inclusion in the decision-making process is essential

All individuals should have the opportunity to participate in every aspect of society. Vim Kochhar, Chair of the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons, shared his ongoing work to ensure people with disabilities are included in the decision-making processes of corporate Canada. In 2019, his organization launched A Seat At The Table, which encouraged boards to make space for persons with disabilities who possess the required competence, professional credentials, and proven business acumen. Although persons with disabilities account for 22% of the population, their presence on corporate boards was nonexistent. Since the launch of A Seat At The Table, Kochhar said the  representation of persons with disability on boards has increased from zero to eight people, accounting for 0.3% of the population. While it’s an improvement, Kochhar says there is more work to do. 

2. Champion voices of those left out of the conversation

Educator, feminist and disability rights activist Fran Odette brought up the importance of centring the voices of those who have traditionally been left out of the decision-making processes—including those who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of colour, newcomer immigrant communities and queer and trans people with disabilities. This is critical because their exclusion is intersectional, so their experiences must be heard. Furthermore, entrepreneur and advocate Taylor Lindsay-Noel pushed the importance of including young people in the conversation. Reflecting on her own experience as a young person on councils and boards, she reiterated the importance of diversifying these spaces. Taylor emphasized that while this group may be young, their experiences should not be discounted. They are still impacted by the policies, laws, and changes; therefore, they should be involved in the decision-making process. 

3. Invest in disability rights, remove barriers

Accommodation and inclusion are not the same. To truly achieve equality and live in a just society, we must create real inclusion that moves away from accessibility being treated as an afterthought. In addition to removing physical barriers, Vim highlights the need to eliminate financial barriers in post-secondary education. Education is an important determinant of success, so his organization is working with universities across the country to establish endowment funds. Additionally, Fran and Taylor addressed the importance of focusing on disability-led and disability-centred projects to create more opportunities for persons with disabilities. To invest in disability rights is to invest in society as a whole. One in five people identify as having a disability, so we are all directly or indirectly impacted. Advancing disability rights should be a priority for everybody because we all stand to benefit from creating a more inclusive and just society. 

To hear more from this discussion, you can check out the Advancing Disability Rights event on our Youtube channel or watch it below:

Season 3 of Generous Futures will be launching in Spring 2022.
Stay tuned for more info!

Photo at top by Markus Spiske on Unsplash