By Executive Director, Tammy C. Yates
The ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda summons all of us to “leave no one behind”. Today, on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation (CWGHR) highlights the importance of recognizing the unique challenges faced by post-secondary education students living with episodic disabilities and notes the significant systemic changes that must be made for these students to successfully enter, be retained in, graduate from post-secondary education and make the transition to the workforce.
This year, the theme for the International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPwD) is ‘Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people with all abilities’. Often, when people refer to disabilities, the first thoughts that come to mind relate to permanent disabilities that are relatively static in nature. The concept of “episodic disability” is a new way of understanding the lived experience of the many Canadians with chronic health conditions that are marked by fluctuating periods and degrees of wellness and disability. Scientific, medical and rehabilitation gains are increasingly changing what might have been fatal conditions to chronic life-long illnesses. The term episodic disability currently encompasses at least 27 different chronic illness conditions1. For example, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis (MS), arthritis, lupus and some forms of cancer may be seen as chronic but episodically disabling conditions for many people.
A review commissioned by CWGHR this year showed that the post-secondary education system often fails to meet the needs of Canadian students with episodic disabilities. The diminished access to post-secondary education faced by students with episodic disabilities will have serious consequences for the life outcomes of those in this group, preventing them from reaping the personal benefits of engaging in post-secondary education, and severely diminishing their chances of career success.
Since 2001, CWGHR has been working at the national level on issues specific to episodic disabilities, with a focus on research, policies and programs that impact health and quality of life, social inclusion, employment and income security for people living with episodic disabilities.
As we cross the intersection between HIV and disability this week (with World AIDS Day having been observed on December 1st), CWGHR affirms its commitment to ensuring that people living with HIV and other episodic disabilities are included and empowered.
1 The term “episodic disability” currently includes 27 different types of illnesses identified in the literature and research (see Furrie, 2010)