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!