Recently, I was asked to speak at a press conference that included a conversation about poverty rates for women living with disabilities in the City of Toronto. That press conference was affirming and significant in lots of ways since the ways in which sexism and ableism intersect to create a system of socio-economic disadvantage is all too common place. Earlier this week, I had the refreshing opportunity to attend Magnet’s I.D.E.A conference which stands for Innovation, Diversity, Employment and, Ability. This conference really did speak to many of the important issues that persons with disabilities experience in the City of Toronto and within the GTA.
These discussions included a lack of disability representation in the media, a lack of disability representation in the workforce, on agency boards and even in the voluntary sector. Of course, rates of unemployment and underemployment of those who self-identify as having a disability was also discussed. Attention must be paid to these issues and not just within the disability communities themselves but more broadly as well. This is because meaningful, sustainable and competitive employment that focuses on the strengths and abilities of the job-seeker allows for significant access to inclusion, the economy, self-development and dare-I- say, full citizenship.
In saying this, I am not saying that people living with disabilities who don’t work, can’t work or are unable to volunteer are not full citizens. Instead, I am saying, that the more society includes disabled talent in their workforce the more businesses will become accessible and therefore able to include all bodies and all minds into their business plan and model.
For example; there are tonnes of businesses in my neighbourhood that will never learn my name or have any paid transactions from me because I can’t use their products or services; that then becomes a huge chunk of lost revenue for many entrepreneurs. The ability to purchase goods and services, and to participate in community spaces and events is indeed about citizenship.
I am a great employee because of my disability. What I have learned about policies and social systems as they impact persons with disabilities comes from my own experiences and secondarily, from my educational and professional backgrounds. My problem-solving ability is top notch and I have a creative mind with loads of ideas because frankly, I have needed to pitch them since kindergarten. If you know for example that you want to go on a class trip with your mates but school policy says that students with disAbilities stay in their “preparation class” instead of going off of school property, you better have an elevator speech, and I often did, even when there wasn’t an elevator!
As a disabled worker, I have learned to explore my options and relax in what for many people might seem like too much, bureaucracy, red tape and spirit-stiffing conversations. Conversations that allow me to discuss my skills and passions are always welcome.
My spirit was lifted yesterday at the Magnet conference where willing employers discussed the inclusion of disabled bodies and ways of being in the world. My spirit was lifted, by seeing so many people with a variety of disabilities, talk about and provide solutions to, this very real problem of disability underrepresentation in the workforce. The conversations included equal parts, vulnerability and grit. Thank-you so much Tim Rose, Yin Brown, Luke Anderson and Dr Wendy Cukier and the countless others who took the time to show up and give compelling presentations. Dr Cukier provided astute comments on intersectionality within the disability communities; and how this impacts employment rates as well how these studies need to be refined to better reflect the diversity of the community and how people choose to self-identify or not while being at work or looking for work. Her research also raised important questions about who tends to get promoted in the workplace.
Wow, Magnet Team—many thanks for all of your work and the innovation it took to put together the event.