By Executive Director, Tammy C. Yates
This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, We Imagine a Future Fully Inclusive of People Living with Episodic Disabilities
Today, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), the world celebrates efforts to build a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities. The United Nation’s (UN’s) vision is for the world, including us here in Canada, to meet 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 (that is practically 13 years away!). For 18 years, we at Realize (formerly the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation) have been a leader and a catalyst for improved access to rehabilitation services, including mental health services, for people living and aging with HIV and other episodic disabilities.
An episodic disability can result from a number of different health conditions or illnesses. HIV is often referred to as an illness that can be episodically disabling, but there are many other examples of conditions that may result in episodic disability, including multiple sclerosis, lupus, arthritis, some forms of cancer, diabetes and mental health conditions, amongst others. When a person is living with an episodic disability, periods of good health may be interrupted by periods of illness or disability. The timing and length of these periods can also be difficult to predict.
The unpredictable nature of episodic disabilities often makes them more difficult to manage in terms of employment. For example, a person with multiple sclerosis may not be able to work more than two days in a row, due to fatigue. Others, perhaps with some form of cancer, may have to wait for the side effects from medications to wear off before being able to work, making regular office hours challenging. The effects of episodic disability are often strikingly similar. For example, people experiencing episodic disabilities can face significant employment and income support issues because of uncertainty around their often-unpredictable personal health situation. At Realize, we saw these similarities and recognized that it was time to bring people together who represent the interests of people living with many different episodic disabilities, to strategize and come up with some important solutions.
Goal 8 of the UN SDGs challenges us to: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Realize is the only organization of its kind working on bridging the worlds of access to rehabilitation, episodic disabilities including HIV, and income support. Having worked consistently over time on these issues, we have built up a unique body of knowledge and know how to put that knowledge to work. We also work to bring awareness of episodic disabilities and the specific challenges that accompany them to the broader disability community.
In 2016, we are proud to be part of the national, as well as the global effort towards mainstreaming disability, emphasizing a holistic approach, and leaving no one behind, by expanding and reaffirming our focus on people living with episodic disabilities.