My Problem With The Sick Kids Campaign

For this week’s blog, I have to go on a rant. You may have seen, if you are part of the Canadian disability community, that Sick Kids (our country's largest Children's Hospital) has a new ad campaign out. The campaign essentially pits the patients, doctors and parents as soldiers going to war against disability and illness. One of the central images of the campaign is a young girl standing victoriously on the top of a mountain of ‘conquered’ wheelchairs. I am not the first to come out against this campaign, nor will I be the last, but as a disability positive advocate I cannot let it go without offering my two cents. So here they are.

Firstly, let me make clear that I have no personal issue with any individual who sees getting over a disability or illness as some sort of victory for them. It is certainly not my view, but it is also not my place to tell them what their view is. The problem is that it is not the only view, and campaigns such as this are hugely reinforcing the idea that disability is negative and needs to be beaten. We should not look at autism, for example, as something that needs to be conquered. If we had conquered it, we would not have most of the geniuses that have graced history. The image of the girl standing atop a pile of dead wheelchairs makes people in my situation, who will never conquer our wheelchairs, look weak. If we really want to go to battle, it should be to ensure policy change for a more inclusive society. Is that not what the end goal in a modern Canada should be?

The Sick Kids campaign is putting forward a hugely problematic narrative about disability, illness and difference. It is sending the wrong message to the youth with disabilities who will never be able to beat their disability in battle. It is also assuming, entirely falsely, that to be cured is the better option. For some, sure, but not for all. I for one would rather fight for equality, fight for change and fight for acceptance of all abilities rather than fight against a disability that has given so much amazingness to my life. Campaigns like this are part of the reason that growing up I never felt fully accepted. Why for years I struggled with my identity as a proud disabled man. I never will be cured and I don't want to be cured. How come that story never gets old with million-dollar ads? Did my wife ‘lose the battle’ by marrying me?

Here is my bottom line. It is always important to me that multiple perspectives on a particular topic are shown and talked about. It is always important to look at things with a critical eye. And I am critical of his latest campaign by a hospital that I respect. Because I do not believe that my disability should be conquered. I believe, instead, that my disability should be celebrated.

A Giving of Thanks

Last week I was away for a Thanksgiving weekend with my family, and in trying to come up with a topic for this week's blog, it hit me that I should give thanks to my disability for so many reasons. So, without further ado…

I give thanks to my disability for the creativity that it has given me. The fact is I'm creative because I live in a world where I have to adapt and think out-of-the-box constantly. My disability is the spark that has led to many of my passions, and the inventiveness and imagination that I developed as a child was directly because of my difference. There is also the fact that my disability meant that while others were out playing sports, I was writing stories and playing role-playing games. So thank you, cerebral palsy, for giving me a creative core.

I give thanks to my disability for the community that it has provided to me. Being a part of the disabled community in Toronto and beyond has been one of the most rewarding parts of my adult life. Through my identity, I am connected to so many incredible people, organizations and opportunities. I have built so many rich friendships thanks to my membership in this community. I have said for years that the disability community is one of the most vibrant, exciting and dynamic groups and I consider myself truly fortunate to be a part of it. So thank you, cerebral palsy, for giving me one hell of a network.

I give thanks to my disability for the career path that it has sent me on. My identity as a disabled man has always been a central part of what I do professionally. That is not the case for everyone with a disability, nor should it be. For me, however, my disability has certainly shaped what I've done to build my career. It has given me the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship. It is given me the opportunity to do amazing speaking engagements and to learn where I want to go in my career. My current job I got as a direct result of my lived experience of disability, and it has always informed the professional perspectives that I'm proud to hold. So thank you, cerebral palsy, for putting me on the path to professional success.

Too often in this world we don't say thank you to ourselves and to the parts of us that make us successful.  In this month where we celebrate giving thanks, I would like to acknowledge my disability and the part it has played in making me who I am. So thank you cerebral palsy!

Cleveland Rocks!

I promised in my blog last week that I would spend this week recounting stories from our recent trip to Cleveland. And because I am not the greatest travel writer (my mother inherited that trait in our family) I have decided to do it as a top three things that I learned in Cleveland, with a bit of disability positive twist.

Firstly, there was the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. On our last trip to Cleveland last year, Natalie and I learned that when you return from that fair city, the number one question you get asked is “did you go to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame?” And so this time, we figured we should be able to answer yes to that question from now on. Although I consider myself a classic rock fan and was raised on a steady diet of Beatles and Stones, music is not a huge part of my life these days. So the exhibits themselves, while they were certainly cool and neat to look at, did not blow me away. However, in terms of accessibility, I was highly impressed. I also loved the fact that everyone who works there truly looks like they should be. It was as if they cast several former roadies to staff the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and that, in itself, was worth it.

Second, I learned that 26 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act has made a difference to the country. It is not perfect and anyone in the Sates who is reading this blog may disagree with me. I will say, though, that the customer service and physical accessibility that we experienced during our four day stay in Cleveland made me feel welcome. It was present in a way that you don't often find in Canada, even in terms of the hotel or the escape room (if anyone doesn't know what one of these is, Google it) that we visited while we were there. It made a big difference to the way that I experienced Cleveland and the positives that I took from it as a city as a whole.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I learned that my message is very important. The speaking engagement that we were there to do went over fantastically well. People really responded to what Natalie and I were saying and it seemed to really resonate with the audience. We got tons of positive feedback after the event and have since had multiple emails telling us how great it was. This demonstrates to me that audiences need and want what I am offering. As an entrepreneur, that is hugely exciting. But as a disability activist, it tells me that I am on the right path. Disability cannot always be about challenges and struggles. It needs to also be about power, positive identities and fun too. That is the core thing I learned from four days in Cleveland.

For more video evidence of our trip, and a full video recap check out our brand-new YouTube channel that Natalie and I started, aptly named "Our Wheel World". Click this link - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClPrlCI6l-RAEAdjgfDtIOg - watch them and subscribe for more disability positive content on the cyber airwaves.  Enjoy!

The Canadians with Disabilities Act

After a week off from the blog, I am back. This past week I had the opportunity and the privilege to speak to a major US company about disability in the workplace. We had a fantastic time in the city of Cleveland (fast becoming one of our favorite destinations south of the border) and the trip will be detailed in next week's blog.

For this week, however, I would like to talk about the need for a federal disability act in Canada. Being in the States for four days served as a stark reminder as to the presence of the Americans with Disabilities Act and how shameful it is that, 26 years after our southern neighbors, Canadians with disabilities are still without federal protection. Firstly, it is important to commend Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet for their action on this front. For the first time ever, I have hope that it will actually get done and that is very exciting to me.

As consultations for this landmark document begin, I would like to offer a few of my own thoughts as to what needs to be included. There are two core elements that need to be there from the start for a federal act on disability to succeed. The first is the voice of disabled people from every generation and walk of life. To their credit, the government seems to be hearing this and will no doubt have several opportunities for the disabled community to offer direct input. But I also think it's important to recognize the use of new media and technologies that are prevalent today. The disabled community, in my book, is among the most active on social media and it is critical that any federal legislation works to capture the spirit of this new generation of advocates.

The second core element is a strong enforcement mechanism to prevent individuals or companies to continue with disability discrimination. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is a decent piece of legislation but it fails because of a lack of enforcement. In my view, legislation without proper tools for enforcement is worse than no legislation in all. It allows the government to hide behind vague potential and flowery language without providing adequate protection on issues that actually matter. Any federal act needs to learn from the mistakes of its predecessors and deliver enforceable defense against the real-life barriers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is certainly not perfect, but it is there. And in my brief stay in Cleveland last week, I noticed its presence. Disability and overall accessibility are more a part of the culture than they are up here. And that is with 26 years of evolution under a federal act. I would like to think that we, the country that has long supported things like a national healthcare system, can get there in less than 26 years. I'll be honest, I do not want to be 57 years old by the time I see the same level of inclusive culture in my home country than I did last week. I call on every level of government, every disabled Canadian and every ally to step up and insist on positive change fast.

Let's give the next generation something to be proud of.

My Wheelchair and I

Today, I want to talk about my wheelchair. Not how much it costs, or how annoying it is to get fixed, or even how wheelchair manufacturers will say that they are not designed to go in the rain (I know…right?). I want to talk, instead, about my relationship with my chair.

Recently, I have had occasion to think a lot about what my wheelchair means to me and how much is a part of my identity.  I have been attacked, by many people who don't know me, for believing that denying my wheelchair is the same thing as denying me. What those people don't realize, and likely never will, is the fact that a wheelchair is more than a handy toy which I used to get from point A to point B. It is as much a part of me as my eyes, arms or head. Without it, I will not function. My wheelchair represents basic human dignity. It is my independence, my productivity, the core element, that allows me to do what I do. Denying my wheelchair is denying me basic human dignity.

This is not an off-the-shelf purchase either. When your disability is a significant as mine happens to be, wheelchairs are highly complex, customized parts of our body. Much like no two people have absolutely identical legs or gaits, wheelchairs can have a similar uniqueness that we rely on day-to-day. So to those who tell me that I should get an easier or more standard wheelchair, I will say that it is not possible. You cannot merely switch out one leg for another, I should not be asked to do the same thing with my mobility device.

I have a deep love for every wheelchair I have ever owned or used. Not to say that I don't get frustrated with them, because I do, but everyone has been a part of my identity for the length of our relationship together. You form a sincere connection in a way that others may not understand. I know there are people out there who treat their car like a child. Imagine if you drove that car literally every second of every day that you are awake. Then you might begin to understand why denying someone's wheelchair is just as hurtful as denying the person themselves.

So today's disability positive lesson is a simple one. Respect someone's wheelchair with the same level that you would respect them. Because for many of us, it is the same thing.

 

#wheelchairsarentluggage

It's Business Time!

For my blog today, I am going to talk business. More specifically, I'm going to offer a few thoughts on the business case for inclusion and accessibility within companies big or small.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the fight for inclusion and accessibility is the fact that it is perceived to cost a lot of money. It does not cost anything tangible to allow someone of a racial minority into your store, but it may cost money to install a ramp or elevator. Being an entrepreneur myself, I understand the need to watch the bottom line. All businesses, no matter the size, want to be successful and maximize their profitability, and undertaking extra expense can certainly be difficult to swallow. Here is the thing though; businesses cannot afford to ignore accessibility.

First, let's talk about market size. There are a lot of disabled people out there, and even more people who have a close family member or friend with a disability. We are, in fact, the largest and fastest growing minority in Canada and beyond. The disabled market, just in terms of customer base, is worth billions of dollars. There are a lot of studies that show that businesses that do take accessibility into consideration get a lot of repeat business out of that. By ignoring this segment of the population, companies are ignoring a massive business opportunity

Second, let's talk about obligations. While disability legislation is not close to perfect yet, it is coming. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the as-of-yet unnamed federal legislation that is currently in consultation are a starting point. Businesses will not be able to get away with a blind-eye approach to inclusion forever. Legal protections against this will (I sincerely hope) make it very difficult for companies to ignore the rights of disabled people, and it is much easier to start from a place of accessibility than frantically trying to play catch-up. In all other aspects of business, planning for success is key. Accessibility is no different.

Lastly, let's talk about adaptability and creativity. No matter what industry a company is in, they need to be adaptable and creative in order to succeed. Sure, this can look very different for each company, but the core principles remain the same. Being a disability positive organization will help those principles because every employee benefits from a more inclusive environment. If you want to create an environment where employees take initiative and where you can quickly respond to market forces, accessibility needs to be on your radar. That is the bottom line.

And so you see, you cannot afford to ignore accessibility. If you want to talk further about this or find out what you can do better, feel free to get in touch on my contact page.

Lessons in Advocacy

A lot has happened to me since the last time I have posted on this blog. I'm not going to waste valuable blog space boring you with a lot of detail, other than to say that certain things have happened which made me realize how important it is to continue this blog.

I won't go into specifics as to the events that sparked the desire within me to do this, although if you know me at all you probably know what they are. What I will say is that the last few weeks has taught me a great deal about disability advocacy, so I thought I would spend the next few hundred words talking about what I have learned. My hope is that anyone reading this can use these lessons as examples in their own advocacy.

The first lesson I have learned is that the general public does not always see disability rights as human rights. This is an incredibly sad thing for me as someone who has worked to advance disability rights for many years, I do believe, though, that many people out there do not place the rights of people with disabilities on the same level as other minority groups such as racial minorities etc.  Legally, we are afforded the same rights and protections as those groups. However, my sense is that a large part of society does not see it that way. In my most recent round of advocacy, I have encountered a range of these less-than-stellar attitudes and it has made me realize just how far we still have to go in this country when it comes to fairness for those of us lucky enough to be born with a disability. I will say here that disability rights are human rights and I am dedicated to demonstrating that until it no longer needs to be demonstrated.

The second thing that I have learned is how important it is to accept support from those who are offering it to you. The bottom line is that advocacy can be truly exhausting, and if you don't take those around you up on their offers support (whatever form it comes in) you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Over the last few weeks I have met so many amazing people through my advocacy and received such an incredible level of support for the issue from around the world. I even had the opportunity to meet one of the fellow advocates whom I have looked up to for many years. I have needed that support to keep going, and without it, I would have already faded. To all those who were there for me (you know who you are) thank you for showing me what a vital role the strength of others has in any advocacy initiative.

The last important lesson that I have learned through all of this is that issues are bigger than individuals. There is always going to be someone else, somewhere in the world, who has faced a similar or the same issue that you have. Because of that, issues can very easily move beyond one person’s struggle to be taken up by a group, a province or a country. I was amazed at how fast my particular issue moved beyond me, and it served as a reminder that I was never the only one fighting. You may be the only one with the voice or privilege to be able to pick up the fight, but it is never just for you.

If you are interested in disability rights and advocating for yourself or others, please get in touch with me. I would love to hear from you! While you are here, check out the rest of Disability Positive Consulting's website and let me know what you would like to see. Until next time, take care and happy advocating!

Pain and Gain

I have not written a blog for a few weeks. Part of this was because of the holidays and the general need for relaxation with friends and family. The majority of it, however, was due to an altogether more unpleasant reason. For the last two months, I have been dealing with significant pain in my left leg and hip. I have not talked a lot about this since it started and have remained quiet on social media, but I figure it is time to open up in a blog.

This pain has been the worst that I have ever experienced. Growing up with cerebral palsy I am used to my fair share of soreness, stiffness and the odd tweak. This, however, was different. When it first started, I thought it was merely another bout of the usual aches and pains but soon realized that it was more intense than I have experienced for a very long time. I was basically forced to sit in recline (thankfully, my chair allows me to do this) for the entire day just to get a little bit of pain relief. I could hardly eat because I could not sit up for long enough to do so and was entirely nonfunctional in most aspects of daily life. I will admit that I was scared.

The most frustrating part of all of this was the lack of diagnostic options I had because of my disability. My family doctor, though perfectly pleasant and willing to help, has never properly examined me because his office does not have the proper equipment to transfer me onto the exam table.  All he could do was offer me pain medication that did not even come close to taking the edge off. He made appointments for me to get ultrasounds and x-rays done at the local hospital because they are the only ones with appropriate transfer equipment. However, these appointments are months away. I eventually had to spend all of last Saturday in the ER, a full nine hours, just to get an x-ray and CT scan after two months of agony. There are many good things about our healthcare system, but the lack of diagnostic support for individuals with disabilities is truly shameful.

I have since had a new seat cushion installed on my wheelchair that has alleviated a lot of the pain. I had suspected that my seat was the issue for a long time, but much like the health care system the wheelchair seating industry is not set up for responsiveness. There should not be a situation, given our country’s supposed care for its citizens, where someone was incapacitated by pain for two months cannot get the answers they need because of lack of disability support. I am happy to shine a light on this issue for the benefit of others.

They say that pain make you stronger. My pain has indeed made me stronger and has made me realize that I do not live in a truly disability positive society just yet.

The Entrepreneurs Journey

This past week marked the end of my fellowship in the School for Social Entrepreneurs. It was an incredible experience with some amazing people. In celebration of its conclusion I post the following reflection that I wrote for the class...

Time, it is said, can fly on wings unseen

Trailing with her all our doings and what indeed hath been

But time can also freeze life, capturing it in its cage

Preserving memories for beyond an age.

 

As our journey reaches its fair end

We all await what comes beyond the next bend

Permit me to retell my tale, from the first line to the last

In recognition of the memories that dwell now in our past

 

I arrived on the first day, the second for most

Unsure of my footing, careful not to boast

A great black beast stood proud at my side

Though his chief desire was a place in which to hide

 

My venture I knew…did I? I must!

Yes, that at least was my confident thrust

But in that room I found far greater gifts

The journey to come being my ultimate lift

 

For I soon came to know one unavoidable fact

Something that could never be glazed over with a joke or an act

It was something that it takes the keenest eye to see

I may have known my venture but I did not know me

 

Those first weeks we all drank eagerly from the well,

Soaking in all knowledge that the tellers could tell

Innovation was our strength, ideas blazing like flame

No-one shy to help others in their game

 

The weeks drew on, my wits became sharper

More sure than ever that I hated Steven Harper

For our group is a true sign of Canada’s diverse strength

Able to carry any weight, to run any length

 

We crafted pitches and practiced them a ton

We were taught to spin narratives until they be spun

We presented them all to the beats of our own drum

Look out Dragon’s Den, for here we all come

 

We sketched plans, played bingo and got busy at Signs

We shared in each other’s glories and united our minds

And through it all, our bond grew fast and strong

Friendships were forged, built to last long

 

We spent a weekend together sitting in a ring

Trying to get a handle on this Playground thing

Many shared glances, others uploaded freely

We tried to learn what a leader was really

 

Mentors, teachers and speakers alike

A Sacred Rider, the ultimate Mike

Their words guided us, their wisdom deep

Getting us all to commit to the greatest of leaps

 

And in myself I saw a profound shift

Confidence risen, no longer adrift

A business mind with a passion to match

Ready to eat limitless cookies by the batch

 

And so, dear fellows, heed my final lines

Because I cherish everyone of our united minds

That success is within reach for me and for all

And it is because of you that I can make that call

 

Time may have flown but memories will stay

Connecting us all to share again on another day

But wherever your road goes and wherever your journey ends

I am thankful, my fellows, that I now call you all friends

 

 

The Never-Narrowing Gap

I have been doing a lot of research in my work on the employment gap for disabled people in Canada and, I have to say, that I am ashamed. It is shameful that, in 2015, disabled people are placed at such an economic disadvantage to their peers because of an identity that has the potential to bring so much to the workforce. Today's blog is just a collection of thoughts on this topic.

The numbers are staggering. According to the Canadian survey on disability, the unemployment rate for this population is between double and triple that of the general population. The same survey tells us that the average income of disabled people, even among those that are working, is more than $10,000 below the standard. Former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Right Honourable David C. Onley has referred to this employment gap as the "perpetual depression" facing disabled people in our country. Personally, I know about this gap all too well having gone through four years of absolute hell with regards to a job search and enduring countless blows to my confidence.

The real question in all of this is why it is the case. Why, when our workforce is so desperate for high-end talent, and disabled people remaining in this position? Why, when there is such a huge push towards diversity in companies big and small, can we not find a way to actually make a difference in these numbers? What is the biggest problem and why on earth can we find a solution despite millions of dollars that the government is regularly spent on disability pensions for individuals who are ready and willing to work?

My answer to these questions is quite simple. I think we've been doing it in completely the wrong way for so long and current attempts at closing this gap are so stale that we are stuck in a big time rut. If you Google employment services for disabled people in Toronto you get countless flashy websites of programs that advertise themselves as the ultimate disabled job board. However, once we dig a little deeper, we discover that most of these services focus on the individual and on skill development or resume building.

I am here to say once and for all that, when I was going through the darkest part of my job search, the LAST thing I needed was more skills or a tweaked resume. So many of these organizations, while their intentions might be fantastic, are only perpetuating the perpetual depression (thanks again Mr. Onley) in their approach. We don't need more job boards or resume workshops. We don't even need more government-funded reports that demonstrate the benefits of tapping into a disabled workforce. There are lots of them and the time to move on is now.

While we do need is a fresh approach. We need companies to actually put their money where their mouth is and start hiring disabled people in big numbers. We need there to be a fundamental shift in attitudes not only among employers but also senior levels of government. Like I've been saying all along, we need to position disability is an asset so that smart, talented people are not being left behind. Until we embrace this perspective, the problem is only going to spiral further downward.

I see no greater need for the existence of my consulting firm and what I do then the shameful disability and employment gap in Canada. It is time to change the conversation.

A Global Perspective

For those who don't know, this Thursday, December 3, is international day of persons with disabilities. I've always tried to celebrate this day in some small way and today I will briefly discuss the differences between the way my disability was looked at in the three countries in which I have lived.

First, a very brief chronology of my globetrotting. I was born and raised in Canada and lived here until I was 11 years old. At that point, my family moved to the Middle East (the small peninsular country of Qatar to be precise) where I lived happily until I was 15. We then returned to Canada for several years until I moved to England in 2010 to complete a one-year Masters program. For those of you keeping score at home, that means I have lived in three very different countries throughout my life, each of them with a very different outlook on disability.

It surprises a lot of people when I say this, but Canada has been the least accepting of my disability of the three choices. It is true that some of this is because I have lived here the longest and therefore have more time to get tied up in bureaucratic nightmares and to see the flaws in the system, but there is also a prevailing attitude here that I find less appealing than what I was confronted with in the Middle East or UK. Canada has without a doubt been the site of the vast majority of the discrimination I have faced, largely thanks to government policies.

The UK was a totally different story. Granted I only lived in Nottingham for one year and most of my interactions are through the lens of a very progressive university, but for a country that has so much old architecture and the potential for inaccessible spaces, I was pleasantly surprised. The University of Nottingham was far more open to my needs than any experience I had here in Canada. On a brief visit to London, I was floored by the level of physical accessibility in buildings and its transportation system. England was a clear example to me of what can happen when government policies are put in place early rather than more recently.

I can say with confidence that, in my experience, the country of Qatar was the most accessible and welcoming place when it came to my disability. Most people stare blankly when I say this, and I am in no way suggesting that the country is anywhere close to perfect on human rights. Just that, while I grew up there, I have never had my disability treated with more open arms. The country’s wealth meant that accessibility was always included, and the attitude towards me from the locals was one of complete acceptance. Whether it was my school, community or my daily interactions, my disability was largely a non-issue.

Now it is time for a quick disclaimer. This blog is meant as a snapshot based on my own experience. It is not intended to suggest that Canada is awful with regards to disability, nor that life in Qatar was entirely worry-free. It is only meant as a conversation starter for disability rights in a global context. Until the whole world embraces a positive view of disability, this is a conversation worth having.

Happy International Day of Persons with Disability everyone!

An Entrepreneurial Shift

For my blog today I'm going to talk about something very entrepreneurial. Simply put, it is a lesson that I am learning on an almost daily basis with my business. I don't lead the business, the business leads me.

Allow me to elaborate. When I first founded disability positive consulting, I had a certain plan in mind as to how I was going to make my business profitable and the audiences in which I felt I would be most successful. While the core values of my business have not changed, I am now proud to say that that initial plan has been entirely thrown out the window. In nine months of operations I have learned things about myself, and about my potential markets, that have helped me to reshape exactly what it is that I'm doing.

Part of this, I will confess, is about going where the money is. There is not millions of dollars floating around the disability landscape, and if I want to capitalize on the money that does exist, I have to tailor my business accordingly. The social activist side of me has struggled to come to terms with this reality, since I believe that all of the missions that I set out to achieve (even the ones with very low earning potential) are important. The business side of me, however, has thanked the market for showing me where to focus my efforts. The fact remains I want to make a living at this and to do that a smart entrepreneur will follow the cash.

But there is another piece about being adaptable that entrepreneurship has taught me in a big way. Running your own business forces you to constantly reflect on your own priorities and how your message is going to set you apart. My initial message and intent to focus upon sex positivity and disability is still incredibly important to me, but I have also learned that there are other areas equally as important to me such as the huge gap in employment for people with disabilities. It is starting to become clearer to me where my message is the most valued. The fact that this clarity is leaving me away from my initial vision is not, in my view, a bad thing; it is, instead, the truth about being an entrepreneur.

I have no doubt that the focus of my business will change many more times during its lifespan until that wonderful moment when I sell it for millions of dollars and retired to a cruise ship in the Atlantic (a guy can dream, right?). I am learning to let change come to me and to enjoy the ride!

The Recruitment Question

I had the opportunity this week to attend the meeting on a proposed pilot program by the government of Ontario to increase the opportunities for disabled people to enter and be active in the workforce. The details of it are not important for this blog, but one of the points raised did get me thinking. When something gets me thinking, it is usually a pretty good sign that it is a worthy blog topic.

The point raised was this: a lot of companies want to hire people with disabilities but don't know how to find them. In other words, the desire is there but the know-how and recruitment strategies are not. This got me thinking about my own struggles of employment, struggles that eventually led me to take the leap xxwq as an entrepreneur. Did a lot of companies actually want to hire me and yet not know how to access me? If I had been connected with a high-end recruiter would that have made all the difference? Is the will there to lower the shamefully high unemployment rate for disabled people? These are just a few of the questions that have been circling my brain on the topic since the meeting.

I am not entirely sure, being perfectly honest, whether I agree or disagree with this statement that the will to hire people with disabilities is present. The bottom line is that, in the age of LinkedIn and Workopolis and a multitude of other platforms that exist, I find it hard to believe that it is simply a question of not being able to locate the right talent. I certainly think that plays a part in the discussion, but it is in no way the be-all and end-all. I believe that even if you had a master database of everyone in Canada looking for work, a database that identified those of us with disabilities, you would still see a disproportionate number of people in the community on the outside looking in.

It is because there is still a dominant perception out there that disability is a bad thing. Yes, the perception still exists that a disabled employee will create more work than a nondisabled one and maybe more problematic in the long run. I will admit that this is not an easy thing to change, and in eight months of operating my business, I know I am nowhere close to sparking a paradigm shift. The problem is that until that shift happens, disabled people will be stuck in a very nasty trap. Society sees us as potentially talented employees that talent is often overridden by the dominant view of disability as a challenge.

Do I believe that being able to recruit appropriate talent is part of the problem? Absolutely! Do I think it is the whole problem? Absolutely not! We need to change what having a disability means to society and until we do that unemployment is going to reign supreme in our community. I am ready to change those attitudes and invite you along for the ride!

A Big Dream

I took a week off from my blog last week, so I figured I should come back with a pie-in-the-sky, big dream idea blog in order to make up for my absence. What I am going to write about has long been a dream of mine and is something that has crossed my mind more than once this week. That dream is for a disability positive community center and event space in the heart of downtown Toronto.

You may look at this and say "Tim, what are you talking about, there are tons of community centers and disability focused facilities". That is true on the surface, I suppose, but none of them fit exactly what I am talking about. Variety Village, in addition to not being in the downtown core, has a focus on sports and fitness. Holland Bloorview, on the other hand, is tied into a medical approach to disability. A lot of community centers, while they may run some disability programs, are not truly inclusive spaces in terms of physical access. What I am talking about is the ultimate hub for the disability community.

I want a space that combines the best elements of all of those above along with places like the center for social innovation. I want to space that offers fully accessible event hosting capabilities, offices for small disability organizations and social opportunities for people of all abilities to mix and mingle. I want to create a space that is cool, contemporary and that people want to hang out in. A place where the disability community can unite in the celebration of our identity. That is not too much to ask, is it?

I have had this dream and desire for a long time. I look at places like 519 Church St. and the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Center as great examples of what could be. These are places that are open to everyone but still focus their programming towards a particular community. They have become symbols of that community and places where ideas can be born and change can be incubated. I truly believe that for the disability movement to take a major step forward we need a building in Toronto that we can call our own. We need a building that can represent all of the amazingly positive things that people with disabilities are known for.

There are many challenges to getting this off the ground. Not the least of which, of course, is funding. I space like this would be hugely expensive and would need a massive amount of support and buy in not only for people with disabilities but from all levels of government. Because of this, I do not think I will see this building appear in my lifetime. There are just too many pitfalls, red flags and challenges for it to be realistic. That being said, I will never stop dreaming and drawing up plans in my head.

My reason is simple. They said the same thing about lots of other crazy ideas… And the world is full of them.

Family Ties

Tomorrow will mark my two-year anniversary of being married to the most wonderful woman I know. This is given me cause to think about the importance of family, love and support in my journey as an entrepreneur. When I have cause to think about something, I blog about it. Warning, this one could get a little sappy.

For a while, I will confess that it was love and my new marriage preventing me from taking the leap as an entrepreneur. Not that she was not supportive, but it was my own desire to produce and provide for the woman I love that kept me in the traditional job market for a long time. I had a fear, a fear that I still wrestle with to this day, that starting my own business would lead to lifelong financial uncertainty and would seriously hamper our ability to start a family, something we both desperately want. Several months in, however, I have realized one unavoidable fact. I would not be where I am right now without my wife's encouragement, support and unwavering belief in what I do.

She is not the only one that I have to thank. My parents, her parents, my siblings, her siblings and every other branch of the family that I could name have been incredibly supportive of me shunning traditional avenues of employment in favor of what I know I'm good at. Add to this the dozens of friends (many of whom I consider to be as close as family) and the countless others who read this blog, share my news or tell me that I'm on the right path and I can't help but feel an incredible sense of support.

This is ultimately a good thing, since I know that without it I would be very unhappy right now. The fact is that being an entrepreneur is terrifying. You are committing yourself to long days with potentially very little payoff and to a range of stresses that most people wouldn't want to touch with a 10 foot pole. I live it every day and every day I experience a new roller coaster of good, bad and indifference with regards to my business venture. The only thing that is kept me in the least bit even-keeled and cheerful through any of it has been the love of my wife and the empowerment I draw from all those people I named above. Without it, I am confident that I would have given up within the first few weeks. The fact that I am eight months along and see no signs to stop is a testament to how strong that force is.

So if you're going to be an entrepreneur, here is the most critical piece of advice I can offer. Get your support system in place – a partner, family, friends, colleagues, online communities – and lean on them whenever you can. You will not survive without it. At least, I cannot survive without it and I'm okay with that.

Positive Advocacy

Since beginning my blog, I have had a few people who read it regularly come up to me and say what a positive person I am. This got me thinking about being positive about the role of positivity in my advocacy. I decided to explore this a little bit further in my usual Sunday blog.

So often in the disability world, advocacy comes from a place of anger and frustration. A lot of the discourse that surrounds disability these days is about the oppression, the struggle and the daily grind that disabled people experience in having their rights met and realized. In my university days, I was a firm believer in this form of advocacy. I was always in the front of the rally, raising my voice and prepared to take on the world. If people were going to challenge my rights as a disabled man, then I would be ready for a fight and I would take them down. There may be some people reading this blog who believe that this is the only true form of activism and that by not challenging these injustices assertively we risk being taken advantage of as a marginalized population. It is a classic fight fire with fire approach.

I no longer believe that this approach is the most effective form of activism. In fact, I now believe that this approach often causes more harm to the overall social position of disabled people than it helps. I instead now subscribe to the idea of what I call "positive advocacy". The premise of this idea is quite simple. You replace anger with optimism and replace frustration with education. A sense of humor and an open mind are my chief weapons as an advocate these days and I have a much happier person because of it.

I guess the question becomes how is change created and how are people most likely to respond to change. I firmly believe that a positive approach is much more likely to create the widespread systemic change because those in power want to feel like we are on their side. Being angry about disability rights or a lack of physical accessibility is so much more draining then starting a positive dialogue around the issues. Disability is an identity that should be a source of celebration rather than the source of struggle and depression. Yes, society screws us over sometimes, but that will only stop if we educate and embrace those who do the screwing over. In my mind, we should not villainize anyone for their ignorance on disability issues, because they will not respond well to our intent. By being positive, we can let people know why disability is an awesome identity and why it is important for society to be more accessible. The old saying "you get more flies with honey than with vinegar" is so true in the disability world.

As I sit here, I am thinking of the words of one of my idols, former NDP leader Jack Layton in his famous letter to Canada. "Hope is better than anger, love is better than fear, optimism is better than despair." In my opinion, the disability rights movement needs to take a lesson from Jack. I have and it is one of the smartest calls I ever made.

An Innovative Thought

My blog today will be centered around one word, innovation. I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between disability and innovation over the past couple of weeks and thought that I would collect a few of these thoughts and put them into blog form. These may come out a little scattered, but that is the beauty of a blog. You can take what you want from it and leave the rest.

Before we go too far, however, it is important that I define my terms. To me, innovation is about thinking outside the box and pushing boundaries. It is about looking at the world in a different way and seeing opportunities that others may not. Innovators are the ones, in my opinion, that make a real difference for the people around them. Disability seems to play right into the same ideas.

In my mind, the concepts of disability and innovation are rather closely linked. When you grow up with a disability, in my case a significant physical one, you often have no choice but to be innovative. When society puts barriers up around you, you have to be innovative in figuring out how to tackle them. When you are discriminated against for employment because of your disability (and yes, this still occurs in 2015) you have to be innovative in the way you address that. Living with a disability means constantly adapting and developing new ways of doing things. That, to me, is innovative thinking.

There are some out there who may say that I am mischaracterizing innovation or disability. Some may say that living with a disability is not about coming up with new ways of doing things it's about changing society so that we get our rights taking care of like everyone else. But when you think about the great innovators of the world, whether it be in science or literature or some other discipline, did they not do what they did to change things on some level? Disability is the same idea and it is only through innovation that we will start to shift the perceptions of those in power.

Since starting my business, I've had a lot of people tell me that my approach to disability, which I am labeling as disability positive, is innovative. Whatever that means for them, I take it as one of the ultimate complements. I believe that disability is a source of innovation and that is a very cool thing.

Public Speaking

For today's blog (which will be shorter than usual as I have been sick all week) I would like to offer a few thoughts on public speaking. I have always been told that I'm a good public speaker. I have used these talents many times over the years, often with great success. Therefore, I thought I would offer my top five rules when it comes to speaking. A quick disclaimer, these come from me and are by no means entirely agreed-upon by experts.

Rule one. PowerPoint presentations with huge blocks of text are not effective presentation tools. They will put people to sleep. I promise you.

Rule two. Treat every opportunity as important, no matter the size of the audience. I have done rooms of 3 and rooms of 300. Everyone is an opportunity to practice your skills.

Rule three. Reading off of a script is not always easier. I understand that some people that is what they need but, for me, reading from a piece of paper causes me to stumble more every single time.

Rule four. Don't get too hung up on making mistakes. Every once in a while, probably more frequently than I care to admit, I will get tongue tied. Don't sweat it. Smile, laugh and move on. Your audience will be impressed.

Rule five. Be engaging, whatever that means to you. Mark my words, it is a lot easier to win over an audience if they feel connected to you. I have always found humor to be my most effective icebreaker. Get them laughing, they are on your side!

Agree? Disagree? Got a list of your own? Let me know!

The Doctor's Office

Growing up with a significant physical disability, I have been around doctors my entire life. Or, perhaps more accurately, they have been around me. For many years, I was regularly run through the gauntlet of occupational therapists, physiotherapists, specialists or other medical professionals. They would routinely ask me every question in the book. Every question, that is, except for ones pertaining to my sexuality.

Four years ago, I returned home to Canada after completing a one-year Masters degree in the UK.  Soon after returning home I knew that I needed to get on the task of finding a family doctor. I am not particularly unhealthy in any way, but when you have a disability, you often need to "prove" your diagnosis in order to access social or other services. Luckily, the local medical clinic down the street from me was accepting new patients and so I went to sign up.

And so we arrive at the first intake interview with my new doctor.  He seemed nice enough, if not slightly naïve about my disability but he was willing to learn and that was all that mattered to me. We started to go through the standard set of initial intake questions. Now I do not know whether I jumped the gun or whether he was not planning to ask me questions around sexuality, but regardless, I volunteered my sexual information fairly early on in the process. I think part of me wanted to make sure that I "got it in there". He hesitated. He seemed rather unsure what to do with that information. Cautiously, he began to engage me about my sexuality but something told me that he would not have done it had I not been bold enough to interject it without any prompting. He bore the same statement that so many medical professionals do.

The fact is that, even in 2015, there is still a great deal of stigma around disability. The second fact is that, similarly, there is still a great deal of stigma around sexuality. When you combine the two, you encounter double the stigma and an intensified sense of discomfort.  Many medical professionals, to this day, will choose not to address sexuality with their disabled patients. That is not to say that none of them will, but just that there is hesitancywith that combination. I will never know for certain whether the encounter described above would have eventually turned to sexuality without my prompting. However, I do know how important it is and therefore refuse to take that chance.

Disability and Sitcoms

For my blog today, I want to keep things lighthearted in celebration of the end of summer. I will just come out and say it. I love TV and I always have. I also think that the history of the presence of disability, particularly in sitcoms, is hugely interesting and I thought I would take a few minutes to offer some thoughts on the subject. My disclaimer at the start of this is that I know it is not an exhaustive list and there are certainly many more examples, both good and bad, than the ones I will highlight. With that in mind, let's park ourselves in front of the silver screen and see where we end up.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the subject is Larry David, the creator of the 90s megahit Seinfeld and the creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I have always found that, in both shows, Mr. David has an unusually high number of episodes that feature disability. Some of these representations take a pretty negative view of disability, such as Kramer and George stealing the disabled parking space. However, most of these interactions are underlined by awkwardness and, in my opinion, do a decent job of shining the spotlight on the ways that society often recoils from disability. In the humble opinion of this TV fan, the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry dates a woman in a wheelchair is one of the funniest sitcom episodes of all time, if for no other reason than its sheer awkwardness.

A lot of teen shows also seem to make attempts to highlight disability, either through a main character (e.g. Artie on Glee) or in the form of an episode where one of the main characters interacts with disability in some way (Saved by the Bell comes to mind). Once again, the way that this issue is addressed on these shows can range from absolutely cringe worthy to pretty positive. I'm sure many of you reading this will have your own opinions on this ‘diversity phenomenon’ but for the sake of length and your attention spans I will say only this: at least it is being talked about. The more that disability in grains itself and pop culture, especially aimed at the younger generations, the better off society will be in the long run.

A number of other sitcoms, in fact I would wager most of them, have at least taken a stab at disability somewhere along their run.  However, I find the unspoken presence of disability far more interesting. Sheldon Cooper, the character at the center of The Big Bang Theory, clearly exhibits a number of autistic tendencies so I do not think that it is ever explicitly mentioned. I'm sure there are a number of other examples of character traits that could be attributed to some form of disability. This raises the question in my head as to what extent disability has to be highlighted in order for audiences connect the characters were differences. In other words, where do we draw the line between too much disability and not enough?

Writing this blog has got me thinking about more and more issues related to disability on TV. If you have any ideas or thoughts on the subject, or angles that you would like to see explored in my future blogs, please get in touch! Until then, I’ll wrap up this episode.