Disability Rights and Physician-Assisted Dying   – Saturday April 23rd

Saturday, April 23rd 2016 | 4:15 p.m.

Multifaith Centre | 569 Spadina Ave (north of College)

Melissa Graham  Fighter for social justice, public speaker, writer, researcher, and proud disabled woman working with youth, women, & other disabled people in Toronto. One of the organizers and founder of the Toronto Disability Pride March. 
Maureen Aslin , Facilitator and educator working with community groups to support end of life planning. Advocate for patient rights.

Speakers list is now online at:

For full program details click here:

To register online click here:

part of MARXISM 2016 | ideas for real change
$10 or pwyc
info: marxismconference.ca

Real Change means an Accessible Canada for All

#On December 3rd, let’s remind Trudeau what an #AccessibleCanada4All looks like.

Canada has a new government, and with that new opportunities for change, new potential, new possibilities. Among those possibilities is the Canadians with Disabilities Act.

It seems that Trudeau has taken up the call, and made this potential Act a part of the mandate for our new Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough.

But what does this mean in terms of real change in the disparity of equity that disabled people face across this country?

There are some promising points here, Minister Qualtrough has a background as a human rights lawyer and Paralympian; this suggests that she is familiar with the struggles we as disabled people face.

Unfortunately, this potential legislation is already being framed in terms that will favour some of us over others. There are people who firmly believe that this national idea should follow in the path of provincial legislation that came before it, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This legislation was not so much focused on preserving our rights, as it was about getting disabled people involved in the economy, employment and industry.

These are still important points, but sometimes the more privileged disabled people tend to forget the many other hurdles that keep so many more of us behind.

  • The need for accessible, affordable housing.
  • Protection of the rights of parents with disabilities.
  • Accessibility in healthcare, including Indigenous Peoples and refugees.
  • Police training in effectively and sensitively working with disabled people.
  • Distribution of Health and Social transfers to address the inequities in the systemic barriers that exist between provinces and territories.

These are just a few examples, I’m sure there are many more.

This is why I’m asking all disabled people in Canada and their allies to make their voices heard.

Thursday December 3rd is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It is also the day before Prime Minister Trudeau’s Throne Speech.

That is why on December 3rd I’m asking all of you to show our new Prime Minister and his Cabinet what an Accessible Canada for all looks like.

Using the hashtag #AccessibleCanada4All please take to social media and remind them that real change is not a continuation of the status quo, where only the most advantaged of us move forward.

This is our time. Let’s make it count.

Please share the #AccessibleCanada4All campaign with your networks.

This election, it’s time for an Canadian Disabilities Act

This election, it’s time for an Canadian Disabilities Act*. From coast-to-coast across Canada, disabled people and organization have been breaking down barriers without the support of or federal government, the individualized “solutions” miss the mark; access to society and quality of life is not created through tax breaks and savings plans.

Now is a time to call for change. It’s time for bold policy that benefits all disabled people living in Canada. It’s time to call on our MPs and perspective MPs for a Barrier-Free Canada.

The following is taken from a letter written by the Barrier Free Canada Committee:

Canada is one of the few developed countries that does not have a comprehensive nationally legislated Disabilities Act. It is imperative to have the rights of disabled people legitimized, recognized, and protected and we believe that an initiative such as ours can make this a reality.

What’s in it for me?

Disabled people who are not currently covered, or who are insufficiently covered by their province or territory; people who care for their disabled family members; people who are forced into poverty because their disability has prevented them from being employed; aging Canadians, Veterans, and the extended family and loved ones of all of the above can be benefited by a national act.

Even the individual who is not affected by disability directly or indirectly can enjoy knowing that as a caring country, we are advocating for all our people.

How will it help?

Enacting national legislation will ensure that disabled Canadians will not be prevented from pursuing goals, achieving dreams and otherwise living independent lives.

What is the end goal?

A streamlined law that defines civil and human rights for all disabled Canadians and that encompasses all provincial and territorial legislation.

We need all the support that we can gather and your participation is crucial in this regard. Our initiative has already obtained the endorsements of such organizations as the CNIB, March of Dimes, the MS Society of Canada, the Canadian Hearing Society, and Accessible Media Inc.

Please take a moment to visit us at http://barrierfreecanada.org/contact-us/ to add your name to the list of citizens and organizations that have already endorsed our cause. As well, we are urging you to contact your local Member of Parliament (MP) to let the Federal Government know that Canadians wish to have this law adopted now.

Follow us on Twitter @barrierfreeca and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/barrierfreeca.

Also make sure you’re registered to vote!

*Note: I deliberately used Canadian Disabilities Act rather than Canadians with Disabilities Act used by Barrier-Free Canada. This choice reflects the inclusion of non-status disabled people living in Canada who would be impacted by this Act as they are currently impacted by Harper’s cuts to healthcare for refugees and immigration policy.

When all else fails, think of Thestrals

How do you talk to the people you love about privilege? It’s like trying to explain Thestrals to someone who’s never experienced death. It’s not in their reality, and therefore does not exist except as a sort of belief system by those of us who are actually oppressed.

Consider the following:

Quotes like “black and white people are not responsible for the mistakes of the past” (see “white privilege doesn’t mean what you think it means”. There’s also “let’s not take this Confederate flag business out on my favourite childhood show” (I’m paraphrasing here).

Or in a discussion about climate change, and that some of the world’s wealthier folks are taking out insurance against it while denying the existence of climate change publicly. This occurs while others are likely to perish do to events that were cause by the societies those same wealthier people reside in. The answer in this conversation? That “in history there is always been people who make it and people who don’t”.

These are the moments where a try not to vomit. I start a very angry blog post, delete it, take a deep breath, and think about the Thestrals.

How do I explain that my complaints about these comments, are not a claim to righteousness, but an understanding of history?

While we might not be directly responsible for that history, white people benefit from it.  One of the many benefits of privilege is that the people who experience that privilege never have to openly acknowledge it.

The history classes we’re given in school leave a lot out. They’re written by the oppressors, the folks that did the segregating, othering, abusing, and murdering of other people. Our whole society is built on those things, and it would take too much explaining for a public school classroom. Or at least this is what we’re lead to believe. It’s easier to turn the page then let it in.

Ok that was a little dark, and you’re probably about ready to close this page, but please don’t. Or at least if you must, read some history Consider why in 2015 it is still acceptable to overlook the wrongs of the past, and assume that people simply struggle because of choices they made.

Rights on paper are just paper. Rights are not simply granted, they are not earned or given. No legislated measure creates them. They are acknowledged by the people, and that is when rights have power. No justice can come without first acknowledging that or power and easier transition though life comes at the expense of those who are oppressed.

The fact that you’re encouraged not to see this is not a conspiracy, but a maintenance of the status quo, so someone can keep the upper hand.

If you feel powerless, don’t despair, we’re meant to feel powerless so we don’t create change.

Is this the kind of world you really want to leave behind?

A better world comes with a better understanding of ourselves and our history.

People with Disabilities March and Roll on the Streets of Toronto

On October 13th, 2012 the disability community once again made their voices heard on the streets of Toronto. They marched with a goal to bring recognition of the struggles and value of people with disabilities as we fight against ableism and other forms of oppression, but they also marched to celebrate and take pride in themselves as part of a community of people with disabilities.

The Toronto Disability Pride March began in the fall of 2011, inspired by the events of Occupy Toronto, and the marches against cuts to disability services that were happening in the UK. The March was also intended to raise awareness to cuts and events that were impacting the disability community locally, such as cuts to social housing and incidents with the Toronto Police. In that first year one hundred people gathered at Nathan Phillips Square and marched down to St. James Park.

The UN has noted that people with disabilities are largely excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them and their society. Many people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed against their will. Though people with disabilities are seen as less or not exploitable by the owners of the means of production, they are further oppressed by being left out of it. To put it in terms of the occupy movement, they are often the lowest 1% of the 99%.

This year we are noticing this oppression in the form of cuts by stealth, and a political scene that not only divides us by our various disabilities, but also by other forms of oppression such as race, class, gender, etc. In September, the provincial government put forth a draft standard to make parks and the outdoor environment accessible. This sounds great until you consider that the same government is eliminating Community Start Up and Maintenance funding to people living on social assistance, which many people rely on to find and keep their homes. They might as well call making these parks accessible the new Home Modification Program.

The accessibility legislation may get out foot in the door for changes in Ontario, but at what cost, but letting our government choose which barriers to eliminate and which to ignore, are we setting ourselves up for future discrimination? Where are the standards to benefit those with chemical sensitivities or mental illnesses? Who says it’s acceptable to leave them out.

The way the March was built also changed this year. Without a solid Occupy Toronto base to build from, we were basically starting from scratch. We discovered some of the perils and perks of grassroots group organizing. We came up with a new route, and made new allies that helped make our March a success.

We also discovered that for some people in our community the concept of disability pride is scary, the concept of the oppression of people with disabilities is still too hard to face, and connections between different movements in the disability community are something they are not ready to build. We need to work on that.

A question I often get asked about this March is what is disability pride. I think we can find it in a great many things. Being in the march, and making ourselves visable is one example, the solidarity we find in marching with each other is another. Another way I think we show this pride is by recognizing and fighting oppression. There are some people with disabilities who will try to tell you that oppression of people with disabilities, otherwise known as ableism, does not exist, that all we need is to eliminate a few barriers and we’ll be fine. I’ve actually gotten emails suggesting that. We know that’s not true. Anyone who’s on ODSP can tell you that’s not true, anyone who’s been asked to leave a disabiility grassroots organization because of a mental health issue knows that’s not true, and any parent who has feared having their child taken away because of their disability knows that’s not true. We can do better. For too long, the rights and oppression of people with disabilities have been discussed behind closed doors, or not at all, but through actions like the Toronto Disability Pride March we find our voice, and make ourselves heard in the chorus of movements.

It’s no mistake that the Toronto Disability Pride March brings out a call to build connections within the disability movement. It’s a call for equal access and equal rights for everyone regardless of their race, class, gender, sexuality, or what disability they have. This is something that seems to be lacking from the mainstream organizations and movements, and why the March will continue to forge its own path.

We call on our allies, people of every ability from the labour movement, the student movement and beyond. We call on those whose struggles have long been supported by people with disabilities to join our struggle and prove that we are stronger united. For more information you can find us on Facebook, or check out our website http://torontodisabilitypride.wordpress.com/. We look forward to seeing you next year!


Post Durbin: Let’s Remember our Occupy Spirit

Here’s a video to uplift you on your Friday. Let it also remind you that while politicians have there heads in the sand over climate change, the people have the power to create real change. We are the people who matter this year, but the truth is we are only starting to realize the power we have.

Happy Friday!

Reflections on International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2011


IDPD 2011 has come and gone, but our struggles and resolve remain as ever.

Here in Toronto, the day was celebrated with a gathering at city hall. Where people with disabilities gathered despite the cold to share their stories. Though the day was not without it’s frustrations, like reporters who ask for my diagnosis right after my name as if that’s what defines me, the day was a clear success.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was commemorated in a variety of ways around the world, from a flash mob performance in Vienna and Amsterdam to wheelchair square dancing in Vancouver.

Then there were the stories from people that even those of us in th disability movement often overlook, such as refugees with disabilities, and people with disabilities in areas where some have never even heard of wheelchairs.

As the video above demonstrates, there are many barriers faced by people with disabilities internationally that many of us in privileged countries have almost forgotten. I for one am humbled of these reminders.

If there is a lesson I can take from this year’s IDPD, it is that he disability movement is shifting. It is no longer acceptable for the movement to take place behind closed doors, this genie is not going back in the bottle. What remains to be seen is whether some service providers will join us, some of whom have built themselves around the outdated myth of people with disabilities needing the able-bodied to move forward.

The UN challenged us on this day to find ways to build a better world together. Let us use the year ahead to take on that challenge, and maintain our visability as we fight for the rights of all people with disabilities.

International Day of People with Disabilities: a Call for a Better World

The following is a speech I gave yesterday…


Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for inviting me to speak here today.

I think it’s impossible to have a discussion about activism without acknowledging that tomorrow is the International Day of People with Disability (IDPD). This is a day where people with disabilities across the world are encouraged to celebrate who we are, take stock of how we’ve come, and look forward to the struggles ahead. The United Nations encourages us to use this day as opportunity for inclusion and celebration, but also to organize and take action as we work to dismantle the barriers that keep us from full equality. Given the events of this past year, it seems appropriate that part of the theme for 2011 is “Together a better world for all”.

The UN noted that people with disabilities are largely excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them and their society, but this year it seems we’ve found our voice.

In response to austerity cuts severely affecting programs similar to social assistance in the UK, people with disabilities took to the street in a “Hardest Hit” march. The organizers said about 5,000 people took part in the protest. Many travelled by coach and by train from as far a field as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the south west to take part in what is being hailed the biggest gathering of disabled people in the UK the country had ever seen.

When the Occupy Movement began, people with disabilities were there, and welcomed in the fightback. When occupations sprung up across Canada in solidarity with the occupations in the United States, people with disabilities were among both the occupiers and people who support them. There is even a facebook page dedicated to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the movement.. People with disabilities were given accessible supports within the occupation in Toronto that would normally take months to receive in their day-to-day lives. This connection is an important one, because not only are people with disabilities part of the 99%, they are typically part of the lowest 1% of the 99%.

Here in Toronto, we were able to link the issues of the disability movement to the occupy movement through the Toronto Disability Pride March. On October 29th, 2011, one hundred people showed up at Nathan Phillips Square, and took to the streets to march down to the occupation, carrying signs that said things like “Build Ramps, Not Bombs” and chanting “ No Cuts, No Way! Tell Rob Ford we’re here to stay!” Shortly after this march, a similar event happened at Occupy Wall Street.

Since then, people with disabilities in Toronto have felt encouraged to be visible in their events and I think you’ll see this demonstrated tomorrow at the Winston Churchill statue when we celebrate IDPD. This event is usually city sponsored, but it slipped between the cracks this year, providing an opportunity for people with disabilities to take back the day.

Even with these great first steps, there is still much work to be done. The AODA has given us a focus on employment, transportation, the built environment, communications, and customer service, but there are still many inequalities that are left unaddressed by these standards. Issues such as low social assistance rates, and the attitudinal barriers faced in society also play a role in the isolation of people with disabilities.

In order to contribute effectively to society people also need to feel safe. This includes things like access to safe and affordable housing and feeling safe in society. Toronto is particular has experienced several situations in the past year and before that where people with disabilities have been harmed and mistreated by the police services set up to protect us. A particular image that comes to my mind was when a nine year old autistic child was handcuffed in a daycare, and the Toronto police considered this an appropriate action. Not to mention the countless incidents against people with disabilities that occurred during the G20. I would like to suggest that in a city like Toronto we can do better. I find it interesting also that while the American disability standards include best practices for police services in this regard, the AODA does not.

Experience shows that when persons with disabilities are empowered to participate and lead the process of society, their entire community benefits. Then how do we encourage those people?

The easiest way to get people involved in an issue is by talking about it Discussing an issue can actually be activism in itself, because it gets people thinking about how the issue impacts their life. This discussion can happen in an everyday conversation, a blog, a Facebook group, a radio show, or a larger event.

The five most important things to remember when working on an issues like this are:

  1. Avoid excluding people – everyone has something to offer, don’t discourage interest
  2. Be flexible – once your issue is a group issue, you’ve opened it up to people that may have different opinions that are also valid. Groups are dynamic, they change.
  3. Build alliances, this will help create critical mass and political will
  4. Prepare for your policy window, that right time when things can come together in a way that allows people to discuss these issues more openly.
  5. Have Fun – if you’re not having fun, it’s probably not worth doing.

Inclusion can come in many forms, all it takes sometimes is for someone to reach out and provide an opportunity, and we need this inclusion, especially from women and youth with disabilities who are so often left out of the picture. In honour of IDPD, I encourage all of you to please take up the touch and get involved. Together we can build a better world.


#Egypt passed on the Dragon-flavored Kool-Aid

On Monday night I went to an excellent talk by George Galloway here in Toronto. Listening to him reminded me that I am lucky to live in a time of revolution after so long a silence. I grew up in a time when people thought women had enough rights, and people with disabilities were told that not being institutionalized should be enough as well.

I think in some ways the western world has been pacified by the silence, hypnotized by a false notion of peace. Like prisoners whose minds have numbed to the routine and boundaries that surround them, and unable to see any other possibilities beyond those walls.

Within these boundaries the strange and ridiculous become acceptable. Democracy becomes a commodity to be bought and sold, with human rights losses as collateral damage. The economy has become an idol worshiped by the rich and the powerful, but this idol is as false as a tyrant’s concern for the people he rules. It was human beings who created the economy. We seem to have forgotten that we have the power to change what makes an economy, and question it’s purpose. We fear it like those before us who feared monsters and dragons. Personally I think dragons were a much better use of human creativity, at least in some ways they offer inspiration. Dragons have existed throughout the world, but at least they consume fairly indiscriminately.

While the powerful of the western world struggle to maintain their notion of reality, the lines blurring to the point that “they don’t know which dictator to back, and which to sack”, as Galloway said. The revolution in Egypt proved that the world is not entirely dependent on western flavoured democracy. Meanwhile, the oppressed peoples of the world can find hope in the true reality that “all tyrants must pass, all it takes is a single spark”.

To see Galloway’s latest project, check out Viva Palestina Canada

To the people of Japan, my heart goes out to you as well.



Disability Rights’ Report On Treatment of People With #Disabilities in Mexican Institutions, This Sunday on Contact

It is a story where words fail to adequately describe the horror.


Tune in this Sunday at 7.30 p.m. when Contact presents an interview with Eric Rosenthal, director of Disability Rights International (DRI) regarding its scathing, ground-breaking report describing abusive and decrepit conditions in Mexican institutions for the developmentally and physically disabled.


The year-long investigation by DRI revealed what the report said was “atrocious and abusive conditions” that included lobotomies performed without consent, children missing from orphanages, widespread filth and squalor and an appalling lack of medical care. There are many instances where disabled patients were held in restraints for several hours at a time.

Mr. Rosenthal talks about these abuses were left to go unchecked and the response of the Mexican government. He also reflects on the continued viability of the concept of putting people, such as those with disabilities, in institutions. Is institutionalization an outdated and ineffective concept? dD


Hear more. Learn more. This Sunday at its new time –7.30 p.m. and make Contact …on VoicePrint.


VoicePrint can be accessed on the Secondary Audio Program of CBC Newsworld; on Star Choice (ch 825), ExpressVu (ch 49 and 967), Look TV (ch 400); Rogers Digital (ch 196), Eastlink Digital (ch 394); and Aliant Digital (ch 998); and and at www.voiceprintcanada.com.