During the month of July, we’ve been celebrating Disability Pride Month. What started in the United States in 1990 has become a global movement of empowerment and visibility for those with disabilities.

In Canada, although the month is not yet recognized by the Canadian government, disability community members and advocates have taken the opportunity to speak out on social media about the barriers they face in our society, and how they have found creative solutions to overcome them- or what they need from their fellow Canadians to do so.

Disabilities may be visible, like someone with a wheelchair, or with a service animal, but they can be invisible as well, like the one in five Canadians who will experience mental illness, or the hundreds of thousands of Canadians with chronic fatigue syndrome.

According to the World Health Organization (which Canada looks to for its definition of disability), disability refers to the interaction between individuals with a health condition (e.g. cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and depression) and personal and environmental factors (e.g. negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social supports). This definition rightly puts the responsibility on society to accommodate those with differing abilities, recognizing the unique skills, experiences and opportunities those with disabilities have to make our society more vibrant.

At United Way Centraide Canada, we work with communities to ensure equitable access and participation for those with disabilities. We recognize the barriers faced by those with disabilities, and the creativity they display in working around those barriers in order to actively participate in society. Here are stories of community members doing just that- breaking barriers and pushing past limitations:

Paige: Red Bridge, New Brunswick

Paige has spina bifida, and felt like prospective employers couldn’t see past her wheelchair. Paige decided to start slow, taking a volunteer role facilitated through a United Way Central New Brunswick-supported agency Ability NB.

“Volunteering is helping me get a job because it is giving me useful skills. I don’t think I would have gotten this volunteer [role] without Ability NB.”

Read more about Paige.

Karen: Calgary, Alberta

Karen McPherson is a community mental health advocate who, at some points of her life, felt like she “would never be able to shake” the deep depression she was under as a result of PTSD. The debilitating episodes cut her off from family, friends and the world. But through research, self-compassion and United Way-funded counselling, she’s developed a resilience and coping strategy that has allowed her speak out about the importance of mental health supports being accessible to all.

Read more about Karen.

Domenic, Greater Toronto, Ontario

Domenic was overwhelmed when he started his first job during high school. As someone with learning disabilities, he felt pulled in all different directions, and was nervous about whether he could complete all his tasks. His dad encouraged him to seek assistance through a United Way-supported agency that teaches those with intellectual disabilities skills, job search tips, and how to ask for accommodations that are their right under the Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act.

Read more about Domenic.

A note on the photo: The Disability Pride Flag was designed by Ann Magill, a disabled woman. She has waived copyright on the image so that it can be used by disabled activists and their allies. To read more about its symbolism, visit her art page.