Review of About Canada: Disability Rights in the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy

Fernwood publishes “critical books for critical thinkers,” and this small book is the ninth in the series “About Canada.” Its author, Deborah Stienstra, is a professor of disability studies at the University of Manitoba. Disability Rights begins by outlining the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and relevant sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to provide a context for subsequent examples of the numerous ways in which disability rights are denied within Canada. About 40% of the complaints brought to the Canadian Human Rights Commission each year, for example, pertain to discrimination against people with disabilities. Reflecting its background within disability studies, the book defines disability as “the experiences of meeting barriers or facing exclusions as a result of living with certain bodies or bodily differences (p.4) and uses several notable cases to highlight the inequities and indignities experiences by disabled people in Canada and to illustrate the author’s contention that “women and men with disabilities are among the most poor, excluded and disenfranchised of Canadians” (p. 37). Importantly, the book emphasizes that First Nations people are both more likely to have disabilities and more likely to be poor, that extreme deprivation and poverty contribute to increased vulnerability to illness and impairments, and that services and opportunities for First Nations people with disabilities fall below the already low standard experienced by other Canadians with disabilities. The book provides detailed explorations of the failure of disability rights in key areas of Canadian society, including education (4,000 Canadian children do not attend school due to insufficient access or supports), employment (adults with disabilities experience high rates of unemployment due to systemic barriers, negative attitudes, and lack of transportation), poverty (one in five Canadians with disabilities live in poverty), transportation (up to 30% of Canadians with disabilities do not have access to transportation), telecommunications (devices can be prohibitively expensive and inaccessible for those with different needs), and health care (people with disabilities face physical, attitudinal, and systemic barriers, and health care workers may lack necessary expertise). Stienstra also outlines three ways in which people with disabilities might access or claim their rights: through universal design, financial support, and inclusion (or “belonging”). The last chapter is the weakest, with a feel-good appeal to recognize our shared humanity. It would have been more useful to provide some concrete examples of how people with disabilities and their allies can work together to claim the rights and respect to which they are legally and morally entitled. Although the author cites the exemplary work by Lyn Jongbloed and Mary Ann McColl in the are of disability policy, it is discouraging that the occupational therapy profession is not identified as having played a meaningful role – or any role – in working to assure that the rights of people with disabilities with in Canada are upheld. The book makes clear that opportunities to dignity, inclusion, and participation for people with disabilities are severely constrained in Canada, that things could be different, and that things ought to be different. Because the UNCRPD, which Canada ratified in 2010, affirms the right to equality of opportunity, every occupational therapist in Canada should read this book, which provides a valuable resource as we work with people with disabilities to assure their opportunities for participation in occupations are equal to our own.

— Karen Whalley Hammell for the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy 82(1)

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