Marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities – 3 December
By Jon Farmer
The more barriers that a person faces, the more likely they are to experience violence in this world. December 3rd is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As we explore the complexities of violence throughout the 16 Days of Activism, it is important to acknowledge the disproportionate rates of violence perpetrated against people living with disabilities.
In Canada, people with disabilities represent 39% of self-reported victims of violent crime. That includes sexual assault, robbery, or physical assault. People living with a disability are more likely to report abuse in their home than people who did not identify as having a disability. The world is not an entirely safe place for anyone but people disabilities experience disproportionate rates of violence and harm.
Violent crime is an easy statistic to report. More subtle types of harm and micro-aggressions are harder to track. The numbers of those incidents are likely innumerable. Those slights, harms, and aggressions can include everything from exclusion from social programs and public space, to direct insults, jokes at their expense, unequal delivery of services, and emotional abuse or manipulation. These subtler forms of violence can impact every aspect of a person’s life from the way they move through public space to the employment opportunities available to them.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities is one of the Canadian organizations “advocating [for] an inclusive and accessible Canada, where people with disabilities have full realization of their human rights, as described in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. They work to educate decision makers on how consideration to disabilities must be given in all aspects of community life to ensure that people with disabilities can participate equitably. They also work in social policy because while 14.3% of Canadians report having a disability, they are twice as like as other Canadians to live in poverty. Living in poverty is a major risk factor for being vulnerable to violence, as there are often few options for leaving a violent situation when a person is financially dependent on their abuser.
There are organizations working to make sure that people with disabilities in Grey and Bruce County have access to the opportunities they need to participate fully in our communities. Community Living, The Reach Centre, and Home and Community Support Services are some of the organizations doing necessary work here. There is still more work to do, though as inclusion does not solely fall on the shoulders of these organizations; inclusion is a community-wide effort.
As long as anyone in our community or country faces discrimination, exclusion, or poverty because of their ability, we are not living in a fair or just nation. It is up to every one of us to examine the ways that our innate, societal, and structural prejudice impact the lives of people with disabilities. We can examine that question with literally every step. Ask yourself which of your favourite stores and restaurants have ramps and elevators. Count the number of steps required to find and prepare for a job, how many phone or online menus it takes for you to pay your bills or resolve issues with the services in your life. Ask yourself who would have helped you get your groceries from the store to your car, or how you would get them home in the likely case you do not have access to a vehicle. Ask yourself how quickly you were understood, and believed last time you reported a crime to the police, without being dismissed or labeled as an unreliable source of information.
Life is not always fair but that doesn’t mean that we can’t strive to create equity within our communities. Today is an opportunity to look around and to acknowledge the barriers that exist around us. Let’s make a commitment to minimize these barriers to create a safer and more inclusive community.
Jon Farmer is the coordinator of Violence Prevention Grey Bruce