Updated: Jul 25, 2019
Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. This notion is one that Heather McCain wants you to understand about individuals living with disabilities. In 2005, Heather started Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods, a non-profit that focuses on bringing awareness to the realities faced by those living with disabilities. The inspiration behind this initiative? Her own life. “I have a disability and personally saw the inaccessibility of our communities.”
Even as she aims to uplift LGBTQ+ and disabled communities, Heather’s campaign hasn’t been met without challenges. “Too many organizations/businesses actively exclude people with disabilities,” she explains. “Visibility is a huge issue because people assume that disability can be seen when 93% is invisible. There are people with disabilities operating on a daily basis in work, home, play, volunteer, school (and more) environments that are not accessible, inclusive, welcoming or equitable. Removing the stigma of disability is an issue – people with disabilities often don’t disclose they have disabilities because of the stigma they know they will experience."
Stigma isn’t the only hindrance to the redefining of accessibility, though. Awareness and location are among the other areas that McCain says are still in need of work. “People truly don’t understand what disability is or the issues that are created from living in an inaccessible society. Getting in the door to do disability awareness training can be hard but it is vital to improvements for people with disabilities as well as to non-disabled people who benefit from Universal Access,” she explains. “Talking about accessibility is easier in Vancouver than other areas of the province, often because people assume that they can spot all the disabled folk and they don’t understand that their communities have members with invisible disabilities who need increased access and equity.”
McCain believes that the commitment to receiving at least yearly disability awareness training as well as conducting accessibility audits – tactics her own non-profit have on an on-going basis – are a few methods other organizations can adopt to increase inclusivity for disabled folk. “Be aware that physical accessibility/built environment is just one type of accessibility that should be covered. There needs to be an inclusion audit as well.”
Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods initiative calls for action from the general public in hopes that through an increase in training and understanding, the underrepresented communities of disabled folk will experience an improved, more accommodating way of life – something she believes they’ve long been deprived of. “Disability is not a bad word – we are not some special interest group… people with disabilities is the largest minority group in the world (and the only one that anyone can join at any time). We need increased awareness and understanding so that people with access needs can feel comfortable speaking up about their needs.”