Monday, August 28, 2017

Dear Everybody

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (Holland Bloorview) recently launched a national public awareness movement and campaign called ‘Dear Everybody’ focused on challenging and breaking down disability stigma and stereotypes. It will focus on major issues such as employment, bullying, friendship, education, and health care providing tools that will educate the public about the role they play in building an inclusive and equitable society that includes young Canadians with disabilities.

While kids and young adults with disabilities have the same basic human needs as other kids and young adults – such as fairness, inclusion, and economic security – statistics show that barriers caused by stigma prevent those needs from being met.

"As a kids’ hospital, we feel strongly that you can’t care for a child’s health without thinking about their future," says Julia Hanigsberg, president and CEO of Holland Bloorview. "We have an important role to change minds about disability. We see the strengths that come from a more inclusive and accessible society. We believe in a world of no boundaries, and it’s time to build it together as allies."

In Canada, there are at least 400,000 children and youth (ages 0 to 24) with a disability, including physical, intellectual, cognitive, and many others. Many forms of disability are invisible but equally stigmatized. Many people with disabilities routinely experience staring, whispers, name-calling, social exclusion, bullying, and outright discrimination – otherwise known as stigma.

The impact of stigma is sobering:
  •  53 per cent of kids with a disability have zero or only one close friend. They also have lower participation rates in camps, volunteer work, recreational activities, and part-time/summer jobs.
  • Kids with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than kids without disabilities.
  • Only 49 per cent of Canadians with disabilities aged 25 to 64 are employed compared to 79 per cent for Canadians without a disability.
  • One-third of people with disabilities say they have been denied a job because of their disability. Likewise, 24 per cent say they have been denied a job interview.
  • 25 per cent of kids with disabilities under 15 in Canada have unmet educational needs.
  • 24 per cent of kids with disabilities live in poverty compared to 15 per cent without disabilities.

"Attitudes and stigma create actions that shape our world – it’s time to break the cycle and enable everyone to exercise the rights and opportunities they deserve," says Hanigsberg.

Dear Everybody targets disability and stigma by putting the voices of kids and young adults with disabilities front and centre.

The advertising campaign features an open letter written by kids and young adults with disabilities that answers questions that aren’t being asked and brings individuals face to face with their own biases. The website will be a source of information and resources, including a position paper with recommendations for teachers, employers, health-care providers, allies, and others that can be shared, start conversations, and end stigma.

The letter starts with "Dear Everybody, We live with our disabilities every day. You might think that’s the biggest problem but it isn’t. The biggest problem is the world that’s full of stigma around living with a disability. People are afraid to offend so they avoid asking questions or making conversation. But we need to get these answers out there, we need to start talking. So we’re putting it all out there. Every line of our letter helps people understand our lives, puts a little information into our world and takes a little stigma out of it." It goes on to include some straight to the point tips, like "Talking to someone with a disability like they’re a baby is rude, unless they’re a baby." and "If being around someone with a disability makes you feel uncomfortable, you aren’t around someone with a disability enough."
Click HERE to read and share the full letter!

"What I hope for is a world without stigma, without inequality, and with an increased understanding about disability," says 17-year old Maddy Hearne, who has sustained six brain injuries and faced stigma from her peers. "I support the movement and want everyone – kids and young adults like me – to have unlimited opportunities in every part of their life. Dear Everybody is important because for the first time, our voices are front and centre and answering questions that break down stigma. Everyone can, and should be, treated equally regardless of their disability."

The Dear Everybody campaign is the beginning of a five-year effort to change attitudes and behaviours in support of kids and young adults with disabilities, and I am all for that!

For more info, visit 

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