Interview from Canada (Part 1)

It is a pleasure to introduce Vera Dolan who was originally from Brazil but is now a member of the faculty with DePaul University, Insurance Institute of Canada, and is also a Ph.D. candidate at OISE* - University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Vera is a wife and mother, and over her 20 years in North America has earned numerous degrees.

When asked about the basic authority that guides disability services at her university, Vera explains that the University of Toronto “follows the Ontario Human Rights Code (provincial), the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the university's own statement of commitment related to persons with disabilities, which states:

"In working toward this goal, the University will strive to provide support for, and facilitate the accommodation of individuals with disabilities so that all may share the same level of access to opportunities, participate in the full range of activities that the University offers, and achieve their full potential as members of the University community. The University will work to eliminate or minimize the adverse effects of barriers, including physical, environmental, attitudinal, communication and technological barriers, that may prevent the full participation of individuals with disabilities in the University community. The University will provide the members of its community with opportunities for education and access to information regarding disability and the University's policies on disability."

I thought it was important to include the entire statement since this university authorizes such a broad range of support, both in terms of services, advocacy, and awareness. Those of us at other universities around the world might want to compare how our institution expresses a view of their services. Vera also notes: “Our Canadian Human Rights Commission also guides organizations and businesses with regards to discrimination against disabilities (on top of race, gender, etc.).”

Many of us wonder not only about how laws differ in each country, but how attitudes may reflect various cultural or national viewpoints. Interestingly, Vera expressed concerns about “ableism” or the notion that our world’s standards are set for those without disabilities and those who are disabled need to adjust to that standard. She notes, “…we embrace multiculturalism and diversity, but when it comes to dealing with those who do not act “normal”, we lose the liberalism and democratic values we’re so proud of. We cross our arms, refusing to embrace differences that are feared as contagious. Disability is like the plague; we are uncomfortable to look at, hear or touch it. We are uncomfortable living alongside it.”

We might assume that this same issue affects people in every nation and may be more pervasive in some than others. We’ll look forward in future interviews to hearing how others experience changing notions of disability.

On the upside, Vera went on to tell about two very interesting places in Toronto: “I’ve recently been to two restaurants in Toronto that provide patrons with enlightening lessons about disabilities. One is O’Noir, where you dine in total darkness. While the wait staff is blind, you become the disabled one. At the other restaurant, Signs, you must use sign language to communicate with the waiters, who are all hearing impaired. It’s particularly fun because, on top of a great experience, you actually learn to sign a few words and expressions. And the food is really good, too! Both restaurants really appeal to my love of creativity in changing social attitudes: I’m all for creating unexpected situations in which people can better relate to the experience of the disabled.”

In the next post, Vera will share her experience as a student and her research in the area of disability studies. Be prepared for some surprises!

* OISE is the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.