Home  Initiatives We have something to say WHSTS International Day of Persons with Disabilities

International Day of Person's with Disabilities

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992, by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

It is important that today, and every day we center Disabled peoples voices.

“It’s no longer time for change. It’s been time; a long time.”

Students Demand Change Now: A Response to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Accessible Education

With the recent release of the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) new “Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities,” we write this with a sense of immediacy, but also with a sense of déjà vu. We are two young people who hold Disability justice and accessibility close to our hearts, from our personal experiences of either identifying within the Disability community or having siblings who do.

We feel that this release is a reminder of how long it has been to fight various institutions, including education, to finally make their spaces accessible. This is why we say déjà vu is our collective experience, because while the OHRC’s release is important, much of the document isn’t new to us or the young people we represent, and so it is with a sense of immediacy we demand that educational institutions and the Ontario government take seriously what is written in those pages.


Over two years ago, in May 2016, We Have Something to Say launched our own report which was a collection of narratives and recommendations put forward by young people, those who share in our fight for accessibility, and the Office of the Ontario Child Advocate. Struggles with the education system littered the pages, with ableism present in how young people are treated in accommodation processes, how our peers relate to children and youth from the Disability community, and how our educators treat us. From junior kindergarten all the way to post-secondary, our stories carry with them the need for substantive change and something new when it comes to educating all of our young people.

We see this substantiveness in the policy and recommendations put forward by the OHRC, with it directly naming ableism as one of the oppressive forces embedded in our education system. As well, the focus on how our experiences are as diverse as the Disability community itself reminds both us and the larger community to see how ableism interacts differently for different people. Not only do we have diverse dis/abilities, but as Black, Indigenous, racialized, newcomer, Queer and/or Trans/Gender Non-Conforming peoples, we have to navigate the world and the education system differently. As OHRC’s document illuminates, rates of poverty as well as suspension and expulsion are familiar and consistent experiences for the Disability community. Harassment and violence towards children and youth from the Disability community fill our hallways and classrooms, and chronic doubt of our abilities and strengths in learning and developing is visible at all levels.

Ableism is alive and well within our education system, and the OHRC’s call for some sort of accountability measure and data collection of students’ identity and their experiences reflect a dire need to account for and address how ableism exists for Ontario’s students. However, it is our sense of immediacy and déjà vu that make us cautiously hopeful, as this isn’t the first time the Ontario government and the education system has been met with these recommendations. While we wait once again for something substantive to materialize, we see ableism’s teeth sink deeper into the lives of students, impacting their education and other aspects of their lives. For example, the University of Toronto’s University-Mandated Leave of Absence policy is coming to full ratification, which will give the university the power to force students who they deem as having "mental health issues" into taking a leave. Meanwhile students and their allies named and challenged the ableism/sanism embedded within the policy, and its dangerous impacts and implications. What will the OHRC’s policy and recommendations do for these students? How much longer do we wait until students experience the justice and accessibility we rightly deserve? Will the OHRC’s second round of reporting on this issue lead to action, or a future report that sounds similar to our present experience?

We see the Ontario government show the capacity to quickly put together a direct connection between community and government, and while we vehemently disagree with the justification for the creation of this line, there is something to learn here. That the years of demanding for someone to account what is happening, and for some direct way of reporting ableism in its many manifestations need not be delayed further. If we imagine a future for education that is accessible and that attends to the lives of Disabled children and youth, and the many identities we have, we need to know what’s going on.

It’s no longer time for change. It’s been time; a long time. Students have been voicing this for years and are tired of not being heard/listened to and repeating themselves. Conversations must lead to genuine action. We needed change yesterday, and so it’s the past and present climate and calls for transformation that we must use to create an actual better future.

-Josh L. & Rana N.~Amplifiers from We Have Something to Say , the Office of the Ontario Child Advocate