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Building for People with Disabilities in an Ableist Society

STORY BY: Diane Driedger
YEAR: 1980
LOCATION: Winnipeg, MB

Diane, a teacher at the Disabilities Studies program at the University of Winnipeg, speaks of Winnipeg as a centre for an international movement of disabled people organizing for their rights. She states that Manitoba was one of the first provinces where disabled people got together in the 1970s, and started talking about things that they needed. "Not based on a charity model, but based on the fact that society has been built without disabled peoples' consultation, so there are barriers." Diane further explains that "disability" means to be disabled by your environment and by attitudes. In 1980, Winnipeg hosted a big conference of Rehabilitation International, hosting professionals and disabled people from over 40 countries, and they created an organization called Disabled Peoples' International ( DPI now has members in over 180 countries, and it groups together members with all kinds of disabilities: mental, emotional, physical, invisible, visible. "One of the main things that people with disabilities want everyone to know is that we are like everybody else. and that we have an ableist society, and you probably don't even know it." In other words, we build for people who are the most able-bodied possible, and if you can't live up to it, you don't fit in. Diane concludes with the following: "This is what all the ramps are about, or all the sign language is about... are we excluding people when we build things, and when we talk about things?" Thanks for sharing, Diane.

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