Academic journal article Canadian Social Work Review

dis)ABILITY RIGHTS: A Forgotten Claim

Academic journal article Canadian Social Work Review

dis)ABILITY RIGHTS: A Forgotten Claim

Article excerpt

SOCIAL WORK NEEDS to be aware of ableism, (dis)Ability discrimination, and the oppression of people with (dis)Abilities. The probability that we ourselves will experience a (dis)Ability within our lifetime is close to 100 % (Zola, 1982). Further, given the statistics cited below, there is a strong likelihood that social workers, regardless of their field of practice, will work with clients who are (dis)Abled. In Canada 14.9 % of women and 12.5 % of men identified as living with a (dis)Ability that impacts their activities of daily living (Burlock, 2017). Provincially, this statistic ranges for women between 9.8 % in Quebec to 16.6 % in Manitoba; and for men between 8.9 % in Quebec to 15.8 % in the Atlantic region. Indigenous women have the highest percentage of (dis)Ability with 22 %, compared to 14.7 % for non-indigenous women; whereas the difference between Indigenous men and non-indigenous men is not as significant, 14.6 % compared to 12.5 % (Burlock, 2017). Fifteen point seven percent of (dis)Abled women have obtained a bachelor degree whereas 30.7 % of women without a (dis)Ability have a bachelor degree. Women with (dis)Abilities continue to be the lowest paid ($58,870) in comparison to women without (dis)Abilities ($79,130) and men with ($61,530) and without ($81,310)(dis)Abilities. The poorest of the poor in Canada are women living with (dis)Abilities, for according to Dawn Canada (2014) their average annual income is $8,360.

People with (dis)Abilities face economic oppression as the more severe the (dis)Ability the greater their chance of living in poverty (Wall, 2017). They deal with social marginalization created in part through limited access to transportation. For example in Nova Scotia Access-A-Bus is only available for medical appointments booked a week in advance (Halifax Access-A-Bus, 2013); the thought of a (dis)Abled person using this service to attend a concert or to go to the bar with friends is unthinkable. People with (dis)Abilities experience psychological abuse sometimes delivered through public stares or worse, being totally ignored, and made to feel invisible (Garland-Thomson, 2009). Physical barriers, such as inaccessible physical structures like stairs or heavy doors keep (dis)Abled people isolated or dependent upon others for assistance. Discrimination can also come in the form of political discrimination where people with (dis)Abilities' voices are not heard and their concerns and needs are not validated (MacDonald, 2016). For example, it was only after organized protests and strategic lobbying that people with (dis)Abilities were included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms(1982);(dis) Abled people were almost left out of this foundational bill of rights that forms the first part of the Canadian Constitution.

Historical Oppression of the (dis)Abled

The oppression and exploitation of (dis)Abled people dates back to the beginning of known civilization. The Greeks and Romans both exercised infanticide for children who were born showing obvious signs of imperfection (Barnes, 1997). More recent history included practices of locking (dis)Abled people away in state institutions (Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 2015), sterilizing them against their will (MacDonald, 2016) and targeting them as victims of eugenics (MacDonald & Friars, 2010). In her film Almost Normal (2004), Dr. Seana Kozar recounts how her parents were encouraged to institutionalize her when they were told of her Cerebral Palsy diagnosis shortly after she was born. The doctor believed Seana would be an 'invalid' with limited capacity and therefore it would be in everyone's best interest if she was put in an institution. Thankfully her parents did not accept the advice. Today Seana is a PhD graduate, a film director, a partner and a mother, among many other things.

Leilani Muir was not as fortunate, as she was admitted to the Provincial Training School for Mental 'Defectives' in Alberta at ten years of age. …

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