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International Day for People With Disability

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Abled does not mean enabled. Disabled does not mean less abled.” ― Khang Kijarro Nguyen

December 3rd is the internationally recognized Day for People with Disabilities. ​The UN has adopted the entire week preceding​ to promote the rights and well-being of people with disabilities throughout our society and cultivate transformative progress on disability inclusion. The theme for 2020* was encapsulated by “not all disabilities are visible,” which focuses on spreading awareness and understanding of disabilities that are not immediately apparent. This includes mental illness, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing impairments, diabetes, brain injuries, neurological disorders, learning differences and cognitive dysfunctions, among many others.

*The theme for 2021 is currently TBA

According to the government of Canada “​A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions)”.​The term is often used to refer to individual functioning, including: physical, sensory, cognitive, or intellectual impairment, mental illness, and various types of chronic illness. This usage has been described by some disabled people as being associated with a medical model of disability.

Our experience has illuminated that both visible and invisible disabilities impact how individuals experience and interact with the world around them. Sometimes these interactions can create additional challenges or barriers to participation, but these interactions can also lead to ​magnificent discoveries ​and societal advancement. It is important to highlight that these experiences are often silenced and therefore, society as a whole does not benefit from the unique experiences of people living with disabilities.

The Day for the People with Disabilities is December 3rd.  This year, 2020, the theme is “not all disabilities are visible.”  This year focuses on spreading awareness and understanding of disabilities that are not immediately apparent, such as mental illness, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing impairments, diabetes, brain injuries, neurological disorders, learning differences and cognitive dysfunctions, among others.

It is widely accepted that everyone benefits when barriers are removed and individuals with disabilities are empowered to contribute and participate in the community.

Unfortunately, the conversations around disability perpetuate the stigma, amplify the challenges, and foster ableism*–this repetitive pattern increases the ability gap.

This narrative has to change. Day for People with Disabilities has the potential to shine a light on the “super-powers” found in differing perspectives. Opening a space for deeper understanding, learning and listening.

Historically, we have celebrated what is accomplished despite disability—it is time to celebrate what is accomplished because of (dis)super-ability.

Day for People with Disabilities is internationally celebrated because it is globally connecting. People with disabilities are considered “the world’s largest minority,” because disabilities affect people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

*Ableism is defined as discrimination in favor of able-bodied people according to Oxford Languages.

Everyone can participate! The more we understand about what it’s like to live with a disability, visible or invisible, the more successful society will be in fostering a world that is accessible for everyone. Our collective actions can cultivate the transformation that will allow society to benefit from the diverse perspectives and experiences of everyone on the planet.

Meaningful impact can only occur when deep listening is practiced. We encourage you to engage with those in your community who live/identify with a disability. Chances are someone in your class, some of your colleagues, and/or those around them identify as living with a disability.

Disability action and initiatives embrace a “Nothing About Us Without Us” approach. We encourage you and your students to consider the personal responsibilities we all have to anticipate the needs of others, in order for labour to be redistributed in a way that makes room for inclusion. ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ also means championing those with disabilities without assuming everyone’s needs are the same.

You can celebrate Day for People with Disabilities at home, in your community, and, of course, at your school! Everyone can benefit from the perspective, knowledge and unique skills found in the disability community. Every physical environment has the opportunity to benefit from increasing accessibility and inclusion. And every learning environment has the opportunity to benefit from the super abilities found in the disability community.

Theatre is an excellent way to facilitate curriculum based outcomes with diverse learner needs. Theatre practice engages a sense of curiosity, observation, exploration and expressiveness that students might not otherwise get to utilize.

When play and storytelling is encouraged, we often find that people with super abilities thrive and shine. Many theatre activities are “failure free zones” and can offer instant validation for all those engaged- there is room for everyone to excel.

Incorporating theatre on the Day for People with Disabilities suits all kinds of students, as it can be a space to celebrate differences and hopefully everyone can leave with an extra tool in their toolbox.

Theatre promotes ideas and beliefs without stigma or rejection, while centring individuals’ lived experiences.

There are many ways to celebrate ​Day for People with Disabilities​, including volunteering with organizations led by people living with disabilities, actively learning about how accessibility is changing today and reflecting with your friends, family, and classmates.

Working with the principles of celebration, we encourage you to explore the activities found in the attached guide with your classroom. We have found success in viewing the day through a lens of meaningful exploration centered on the “super-abilities”. Cultivating an understanding in division 1 students of the “super-abilities” of people living with a disability and an awareness of accessibility challenges can help foster a more inclusive tomorrow.

With students aged 9-14, the exploration of the “ability-gap” can also be investigated through thoughtful examination of the discriminatory realities faced by the disabled community, we can help prioritize positive change and reduce ableism.

Below you will find many links to resources to help cultivate learner conversations around “what makes people unique?”, and how differing abilities create a strong society. We have also included a list of some famous minds that experience life with a difference.

Those With Super Abilities

It​ can be impactful to see ourselves in others, or come to understand more about those we admire! Below are some people you might recognize, and a little bit about what kind of disability they live/lived with.

Satoshi Tajiri: Lives with Autism and created Pokemon! ​Autism​, or ​autism​ spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

Selena Gomez: Lives with Lupus.​ Lupus​ is a chronic (long-term) disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body.

Halsey: lives with ​Bipolar Disorder​. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects mood. With bipolar disorder, people experience episodes of depression and episodes of mania.

Terry Fox: Terry was only 18 years old when he was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (​bone cancer​) and forced to have his right leg amputated 15 centimetres (six inches) above the knee in 1977.

Stephen Hawking: Hawking was diagnosed with ​motor neuron disease​, more commonly known as ​Lou Gehrig’s disease​ or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis​ (ALS)​.

Stevie Wonder: Stevie Wonder became ​Blind​ shortly after birth. He learned to play the harmonica, piano and drums by age 9.

Beethoven: By the time he was 44 or 45, he was totally ​Deaf​ and unable to converse unless he passed written notes back and forth to his colleagues, visitors and friends.

One size does not fit all

How you and your school decide to use the suggested activities, performances, and resources will depend completely on what you and your peers are comfortable with, and the time you have available to designate to the project(s). Trickster is also available to consult with if you would like extra help, resource connections, and/or coordination. You can go big, involving every class with different projects, performances and events throughout the school, or, you can go as small as just doing an activity listed in the materials for your own class which you believe will help them connect to the subject matter. 

Due to the circumstances of COVID19, not everything suggested will be possible, and many will need to be adjusted to suit your needs and comfort level. As we hope to carry this forward, and know that schools are looking to future projects much further down the road, we do want to plant the seeds for what those event days might look like too. There will be suggestions throughout on how you can modify activities for social distancing, but you are also able at any point to choose and modify activities and projects to achieve the level of safety your school is comfortable with.

Why Teachers Love It

Our residency was a unifying and motivating experience that we used as a way to begin our year long inquiry about children’s rights.

— Lisa McConnell, Teacher, North Haven School, Calgary

Past Students & Classes