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People with disabilities unite and fight back

Melissa Graham

November 30, 2011

The International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPD) is a day where people with disabilities across the world are encouraged to celebrate who we are, take stock of how far we’ve come, and look forward to the struggles ahead. The United Nations encourages us to use this day as an opportunity for inclusion and celebration, but also to organize and take action as we work to dismantle the barriers that keep us from full equality. Given the events of this past year, it seems appropriate that part of the theme for 2011 is “Together a better world for all.”

The UN noted that people with disabilities are largely excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them and their society, but this year it seems we’ve found our voice.

In response to austerity cuts severely affecting social assistance programs in the UK, people with disabilities took to the streets in a “Hardest Hit” march. The organizers said about 5,000 people took part in the protest. Many travelled by coach and by train from as far a field as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the south west to take part in what is being hailed as the biggest gathering of disabled people the country has ever seen.

When Occupy Wall Street began, people with disabilities were there and welcomed in to the fightback. When occupations sprung up across Canada and another 1,700 cities in solidarity with the occupations in the US, people with disabilities were both occupiers and supporters outside the camps. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the movement. At the Occupy Toronto site, People with disabilities were given accessible supports, such as accessible washrooms, that would ordinarily have taken months to receive in their day-to-day lives. This connection is an important one, because not only are people with disabilities part of the 99%, they are typically part of the lowest 1% of the 99%.

Here in Toronto, we were able to link the issues of the disability movement to the Occupy movement through the Toronto Disability Pride March. On October 29th, 2011, one hundred people showed up at Nathan Phillips Square, and took to the streets to march down to Occupy Toronto, carrying signs that said things like “Build Ramps, Not Bombs” and chanting “ No Cuts, No Way! Tell Rob Ford we’re here to stay!” Shortly after this march, a similar event happened at Occupy Wall Street.

Even with these great first steps, there is still much work to be done. Canadians have faced high profile disability hate crimes in the past few months. In August, a man who used a wheelchair died four days after being viciously assaulted in his Winnipeg apartment. Toronto has seen two situations involving police interaction with people with disabilities. In July, Police used handcuffs to restrain a nine-year-old disabled boy who they say “became uncontrollable” at a Toronto daycare centre. Around the same time, a man with a disability was killed during interactions with Toronto police.

Experience shows that when persons with disabilities are empowered to participate and lead the struggles for a better society, their entire community benefits, so in honour of his day, please take up the torch and get involved. Together we can build a better world

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