The following is the third in a series of articles highlighting National AccessAbility Week. Written by Christopher Lytle, Brock’s AODA Co-ordinator in the Office of Human Rights and Equity, the stories will appear in The Brock News from Monday, May 27 to Friday, May 31.
Brock University has been hard at work changing how systemic barriers that have traditionally prevented equity seeking groups from equal participation are both viewed and dealt with.
The shift began with the implementation of recommendations from the University’s Human Rights Task Force Report (HRTF) in 2017.
Within the context of creating a dialogue, the University has decided to use the term ableism to designate areas where there are still underlying assumptions and stigma about people with disabilities. The institution’s use of ableism represents a departure from viewing disability issues as just functional elements that can be dealt with through the lens of accommodation.
While accommodation is important, it represents only a small facet of what is required for a community to become genuinely inclusive.
An accommodation is put in place so that someone can be challenged on an equal plain without any barrier hampering their ability to partake in a program. Accommodations do not do a good job of raising the issues of stigma and discrimination with the broader community level because the process of applying accommodations are individualized.
Ableism is a useful tool in this regard because the term emphasizes a broader community approach and institutional responsibility to remove barriers that do not allow people with disabilities to have an equal voice.
Ableism asks very important questions when the expression is used. It immediately asks what the level of representation is of people with disabilities at any tier of the community. It begs a response to the question: are there allied relationships being formed that include people with disabilities when discussions of discrimination are taking place?
It interrogates our own assumptions of disabilities as a negative individual experience rather than a dynamic part of our culture and an intersectional component of diversity.
The University has taken on the term ableism because of a realization that there are now mountains to move and streams to part with regards to creating a welcoming place for everybody.
The implementation of the recommendations in the HRTF and the term ableism means that we are now on a strategic path towards recognizing and taking ownership of how our daily lives might be guided by ableist constructs that work to exclude the positive engagement of people with disabilities.
Simply put, social institutions have to take ownership of working in embedded ableist structures in order to commit to the work of becoming anti-ableist.
Quite possibly, other communities will be able to use the University’s example of self-reflection to enable them to take a hard look in the mirror and undertake the difficult work of realizing that ableism is everywhere, and it is analogous to racism, sexism and ageism.