C/O Hello I'm Nik/Unsplash

Time and time again, vaccination efforts have ignored the accessibility needs of disabled individuals 

We’ve all heard the endless discourse surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations these past few months. With news coming out about mandatory vaccination passports and changing travel guidelines, it’s important to take a step back and fully internalize the expansive impact of vaccination rollouts on an overlooked sector of the population. 

Individuals with a disability, both seen and unseen, have been reported as 12% less likely to have received one vaccination dose. This is due to a myriad of factors, namely inaccessible online platforms for booking vaccine appointments, difficulties getting to clinics and physically inaccessible clinic locations. 

Besides just vaccinations, the entire handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has persisted without consideration of differently abled perspectives, as echoed by the visual inaccessibility of the ArriveCAN app that determines whether vacationers can re-enter the country.

Craig Madho is a research analyst at OpenLab, an innovation hub at University Health Network , who detailed the accessibility challenges that were inherent to many early-stage pop-up clinics in Toronto. As a volunteer lead for the Mobile Vaccine Strategy Table at UHN, Madho recruited volunteers for functions such as line management and registration at various vaccine pop-ups across Toronto. 

“Definitely, there’s a balance between needing to pop-up quickly, utilizing simply what’s available and taking some time to understand the accessibility needs of the community and catering more directly to their needs,” Madho explained. 

Essentially, the requirement of meeting accessibility needs across venues was often superseded by the rush to get “hotspot” areas vaccinated. Madho further detailed that there was awareness that some factors could be improved upon and following feedback from the community, interventions such as coloured signage, more physically accessible venues and increased volunteer support were prioritized. 

Despite the best efforts of volunteer and government-run vaccine initiatives across the country, this phenomenon highlights the unfortunate nature by which accessibility needs are circumstantially forced onto the back burner, especially in the onset of a public health crisis. Individuals with disabilities are more likely to experience chronic disease and face additional barriers to acquiring appropriate healthcare and these inequities have amounted to a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and lower vaccination rates, despite an increased need. 

Another factor that deserves consideration are the pertinent reasons behind vaccine hesitancy for individuals with disabilities. One of the biggest reasons behind disability-related hesitancy is a lack of trust for vaccine safety or efficacy on their disability. This exemplifies the ever-present need for holistic scientific data collection — one that actually addresses the expansive needs of our diverse population. 

Additionally, such information points to a need for vaccination clinics made specifically to cater to the needs of a community. One such example is a vaccine clinic located in the MaRS Discovery District for Innovation. It houses a quieter environment, smaller groups and open space for youth with varying accessibility needs along with their caregivers. Another clinic that was formulated to meet the needs of a specific population, the Black community of Toronto, was the vaccine pop-up held at the Jamaican Canadian Association centre on May 8 and 9, 2021. 

Clearly, steps are being taken to ensure future and more recent vaccination efforts truly encompass the needs of the entire Canadian population. However this begs the question: what more can be and should be done to improve accessibility surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations?

“Largely, what would be helpful is documentation and shared information around what has been done and what has been successful . . .  We’re at this point where we can look back and try to better understand what could be done for future clinics and health initiatives,” explained Madho.

Such a mindset has been echoed by disability organizations across the GTA. The Centre for Independent Living in Toronto  has made tremendous strides in pooling the resources available to those with disabilities, while partnering with organizations and community members to deliver vaccine town halls and webinars for both the visually impaired and autism-affected communities.

It is more important now than ever to share both the quality and depth of any information learned through the steps and missteps in the handling of COVID-19 vaccination clinics. It is truly unfair to put the onus of education completely in the hands of vulnerable populations whose voices often go unheard. Rather, both abled and disabled advocates must raise their voices to move such considerations to the front of the decision-making agenda. Achieving equitable access to public health interventions is a necessity, not a choice. 

Bill C-7 expands medical assisted in dying to include those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable

C/O Bill Oxford

cw: mental illness, death, ableism

The Canadian government has passed Bill C-7, which changed the medical assistance in dying law. The bill was introduced in October 2020 after a September 2019 decision made by the Superior Court of Quebec.

The law previously required that the individual seeking MAID must be faced with a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death in order to be eligible. The law included the following: someone who has a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability, who is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability, who is experiencing enduring and intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved under conditions acceptable to them and whose natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.

The 2019 ruling found the requirement of a reasonably foreseeable natural death to be unconstitutional.

As such, Bill C-7 proposed amendments to the criminal code. This would expand MAID eligibility to persons whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable. Individuals with mental illness will also be eligible for this within two years. The Senate passed Bill C-7 on March 17, 2021. The royal assent was given a week ahead of its court-imposed final deadline of March 26.

Vote result on on @SenMarcGold's motion related to the House of Commons response to the Senate's amendments to Bill #C7:

Yeas: 60 ✔️
Nays: 25 ❌
Abstentions: 5#SenCA #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/2cJPruGSqX

— Senate of Canada (@SenateCA) March 17, 2021

The bill will create two different sets of safeguards for those whose death is reasonably foreseeable and for those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable. Furthermore, Canadians will have a minimum 90-day assessment period for their MAID request in which they will be made aware of alternatives, such as counselling.

Bill C-7 has raised a lot of concerns from disability advocates. More than 300 disability groups in Canada opposed the change, as they believe it would create situations where people with disabilities are offered MAID instead of stronger support and community services.

We are horrified by the direction parliament is taking Canada’s euthanasia legislation. The idealization of doctor-assisted death as a peaceful, easy solution to the existential problem of life’s challenges is cruel. @TheSpec#BillC7@djnontario#HamOnthttps://t.co/fDNBfEj5nP

— Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) (@HCCI1) March 11, 2021

Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario and a McMaster University alumna, expressed her concerns.

"How are we going to make sure that marginalized communities like the Indigenous, racialized people and those with disabilities, don't feel pressured to access MAID because they feel like a burden on the state?” asked Jama in a CBC MAID town hall.

These concerns were also echoed by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Gerard Quinn.

“We’re concerned that it massively expands the range of [MAID eligible] people with disabilities, who potentially will be given access [to MAID],” said Quinn in a CBC interview. “We’re concerned that there might be issues there . . . undermining their autonomy and their capacity to make the right decisions. I don’t mean the lack of legal capacity. What I mean is subtle pressure being brought to bear by, for example, lack of services or lack of community living options."

MSU Maccess coordinator Calvin Prowse echoed concerns around the bill.

“Things like the lack of social services, the erosion of the social safety net, lack of healthcare... a lack of pharmacare so people can actually pay their medications…in many ways, [for] disabled people, their inclusion in society is being prevented . . . We're trying to give folks with disabilities access to dying, but as a society, we are not actually helping people meet their needs and allow them to actually live,” said Prowse.

"Of course it’s not promoting death. Death is inevitable, you don’t need to promote it. No, this is to reduce suffering and pain.” Former prof Ronald Bayne on why we need medical assistance in dying. At 98, Dr. Bayne chose #MAID and died on Friday. https://t.co/NHE8JvP2G4

— McMaster University (@McMasterU) March 1, 2021

cw MAiD, death, genocide

It is upsetting to see @McMasterU romanticize MAiD like this. Changes to Bill c7 perpetuate the idea that disabled lives are not worth living. During a pandemic in which disabled lives are constantly devalued, c7 reads more like coercion than choice. 1/4 https://t.co/HhguxIWedj

— MSU Maccess (@MSU_Maccess) March 2, 2021

Prowse also pointed to the timing of the bill being discussed during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people with disabilities have already had to advocate to be prioritized for vaccines and more folks are developing disabilities and chronic illnesses. Some advocates worry that their voice is not being heard.

“I think that we see a lot of people with disabilities and a lot of disabled organizations coming forward and sharing their criticisms and concerns about this bill . . . There’s so many, but I think often that is lost or, truthfully, ignored when we have conversations about MAID. Those perspectives are often not considered,” emphasized Prowse.

The government has committed to launching a joint parliamentary committee to review additional unresolved details around the bill, such as whether mature minors should have access to the procedure and what the inclusion of individuals with mental illness will entail. This committee will be launched within 30 days of the royal assent.

The MacPherson Institute has launched a new zine exploring barriers of access on campus

C/O LQ from This Insane Life: MadStudents Zine, 2014

The MacPherson Institute, McMaster’s teaching and learning centre, has launched a new zine on disability, accessibility and teaching and learning at McMaster University.

Current and former McMaster students with lived experiences of disability, disablement, inaccessibility and ableism are invited to contribute to the zine to share and voice their experiences. This could include any barriers to access they might have experienced at McMaster or other post-secondary institutions.

Current and former McMaster students with lived experiences of disability, disablement, inaccessibility and ableism are invited to contribute to the zine to share and voice their experiences.

The zine project is being led by disabled students and alumni.

“[The zine] seeks to uncover and document the labour and legacy of these disabled student initiatives and others (individual and collective; formal and informal) we haven’t heard from yet,” as stated on the website

“The zine takes an arts-based approach to educational pedagogy and seeks to inform educators and faculty about the struggles of students who are or identify as a disabled, neurodivergent or are service users of mental health,” explains Evonne Syed, a third-year undergraduate MacPherson student partner and educational research assistant on the zine team.

The project will hope to acknowledge the need for greater accessibility and disability inclusion in the classroom, within curricula and on-campus. The project also builds on the work of a similar 2014 McMaster zine on Mad student experiences. It will also contribute to commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the MacPherson Institute.

Both individual and group submissions are being accepted in multiple formats, including but not limited to: creative arts such as collage, comics, graphic design, drawing, painting, photography; literary arts like dialogues/interviews, essays, poetry, lyrics, reflections, satire, short fiction, theatre scripts; or other ideas such as lists, recipes, games, etc.

The submission deadline is March 31 and can be submitted through a Google Form. Contributors will be notified about the status of their piece on May 1, with the publication date set for summer 2021. 

“Art is [one of the] the most successful modes for expression… there aren't really many guidelines and you have a lot of freedom with what you do and how you express yourself. In that way we can appeal to a wider audience when it comes to talking about disability and accessibility,” emphasized Tanisha Warrier, a second-year biology student on the zine team.

“Art is [one of the] the most successful modes for expression… there aren't really many guidelines and you have a lot of freedom with what you do and how you express yourself. In that way we can appeal to a wider audience when it comes to talking about disability and accessibility"

Tanisha Warrier

Up to 30 current students and alumni from 2011-2020 are eligible to receive a $125 honorarium for any pieces chosen for publication in the zine. Other contributors whose pieces are chosen for publication will be eligible to request an honorarium.

The amount will depend on the project budget and the overall number of accepted submissions. These honoraria are funded by grants from the Arts Research Board at McMaster University as well as the Student Success Centre’s Career Access Professional Services Program.

“Something that I really love about this project is that we are asking the people who are [directly] impacted by these [accessibility] barriers what their experiences are and compensating them for their contributions,“ said Emunah Woolf, a social work placement student on the zine team.

“A lot of times, we either don't ask the people who are impacted and, therefore, don't solve it in a way that actually fixes the issues. We're asking folks from equity-seeking groups how they want equity and then not actually compensating them for that knowledge or that labour,” said Woolf.

The zine will be an open-access publication that will be distributed to students, staff, faculty and campus partners. After the publication, the zine team plans on conducting research to evaluate the engagement and impact of the zine, such as through focus groups and surveys of contributors and readers.

The zine team emphasized the importance of this project in creating a more inclusive space for those with disabilities.

“We need to start having more conversations. Not only within our own friend circles and things like that, but also conversations with higher-ups in academics and larger, more influential people in our faculties to ensure that voices are being heard, and are being taken to a place where change can actually take place,” said Vikita Mehta, a second-year arts and science student on the zine team.

The team also highlighted tangible action that must follow through with the contributions of the zine, especially to make the learning environment more accessible for disabled folks.

The team also highlighted tangible action that must follow through with the contributions of the zine, especially to make the learning environment more accessible for disabled folks.  

“With the release of [the zine to] really set the scene, it might also be helpful to educators and [professors] in incorporating a more inclusive educational framework and improve their teaching methods in terms of how they structure their classes, so that it's more accessible for different students [of] different abilities,” said Syed.

“We need to ensure that the playing field level when it comes to school, work and academics [is made so] that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed,” added Warrier.

“We need to ensure that the playing field level when it comes to school, work and academics [is made so] that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed." 

Tanisha Warrier

The mental illness label can have tremendous impacts and we should approach it with more care

By: Frank Chen, Contributor

CW: mentions of mental illness

Veterans of university know: this late-November to mid-December stretch is not a good time of the year. As midterms wrap up and exam season ramps into full gear, this is the point where students become overwhelmed, burnt out and exhausted. Yet, we have some of the most important examinations ahead. Especially in this “unprecedented” year, the burden on students is massive, and the McMaster University community has been vocal about it.

At the forefront of this is a discussion regarding student mental health. Over the past year, the ideas of mental health and mental illness have been thrown around a lot by students. Students are increasingly expressing loneliness, reporting frustration with coursework and burning out. As a result of those feelings, I’ve seen more and more people labelling themselves as depressed or anxious. But “mental illness” is a term with a lot more weight than many people realize. 

When the “mental illness” tag is put on you, it’s often seen as a fixed state — a never-ending onslaught of “bad” mental health. It becomes easy to stop appreciating the good parts of your life when you fixate on the idea that you are “mentally unfit.” Regardless of illness or not, there can be real harm done just by the label itself. 

As an example, in my first year of university (which was in person), I bought into the idea that my stresses and insecurities were a form of generalized anxiety disorder. Due to this, I put boundaries on how I could or could not act based on what I thought of my own mental state. This took away so many possibilities. 

Instead, I now realize how my stresses in my first year could be reframed as a normal response to a change of environment and an adaptation to university life. But regardless, my belief of having anxiety limited me and it can be incredibly easy to misjudge these negative emotions to mental illness. 

Both my personal experience and some of the nuances in how students talk about mental illness illustrate an important idea: that our view of mental illness can be incredibly individualized. In stressful situations that evoke emotional responses and actions, we often miscategorize our failings to ourselves rather than a product of our environment.

For example, students often blame themselves for their grades, for not being prepared enough or for not being that star student who can simultaneously juggle many commitments. However, what we fail to consider are the social contexts that we are in that often make it difficult to achieve these standards, such as home conditions, family duties or socioeconomic status. 

In stressful situations that evoke emotional responses and actions, we often miscategorize our failings to ourselves rather than a product of our environment.

Similarly, students also often talk about mental health as a dichotomous issue, as either having good or bad mental health, which inherently puts pressure on themselves to “fix” their mental states. But realistically, everyone has good and bad days, largely influenced by the events and activities taking place that day. Mental health is less a fixed state based on your own failures, but rather something that is constantly fluctuating largely influenced by your surroundings. 

Our individualized view of mental illness poses danger for those caught up in it. Mental health when approached from the view that it’s the fault of the individual can often lead to a vicious cycle where mental illness can lead to self-doubt and self-hate, furthering negative self-perceptions. The label of illness can be hard to escape from, but social context is key when approaching the way you feel. Understanding that the vast majority of signs and symptoms of what you may think is illness can actually come as normal responses to stressful contexts.

It can be hard to step back and convince yourself that social contexts can play the role it does. Historically, mental health as a discipline has been rooted in individualism, harkening back to the days when disabled people, 2SLGBTQIA+ folks and others who were deemed socially undesirable were blamed for their “mental illness.”

Mental illness was used as a tool to control those who didn’t conform to social standards set at the time, their purpose was originally to condemn the individual. In part, it’s this long-standing history of individualized mental illness that contributes to why so many people still think of it this way today.  

With the impending exam season, we need to be more aware of the implications of a term like “mental illness.” As we move into a stressful time for students and educators alike, I hope that we can all consider whether those negative thoughts and emotions are truly arising from mental illness or something else — because it can be very easy to misattribute feelings as disease, when there can be bigger and broader social contexts in play.

How remote education benefits students who experience disabilities

By: Yvonne Syed, Contributor

Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic in March 2020, educators and postsecondary institutions have been hard at work transferring their teaching to online delivery methods. To accommodate everyone’s health and safety, remote learning has become a norm and is something we will be engaging in for at least a year. 

Earlier this year, McMaster University students completed the remainder of their winter 2020 term online and offered spring and summer courses remotely. Then this past week, through a letter from the provost, it has been confirmed that the university will remain online until the end of the winter 2021 term. 

To accommodate for remote methods of teaching and learning, the university prepared for the fall term by making pre-recorded lectures, posting slides on Avenue to Learn and offering remote office hours. While online learning may not be a preferred method of learning for some students, remote delivery has undoubtedly made life easier in the sense that learning is more accessible for some students with some of the flexibility it brings. This is evident in the ability for students to learn at their own pace in some courses that are now being offered asynchronously, or for courses that now pre-record, podcast or post lecture recordings, as it does not constrain students to set times for learning. The adjustments made related to COVID-19 are showing us that more effortful accessibility accommodations for students with disabilities could have always been arranged.

Prior to the adjustments made as a result of the pandemic, students who experience disabilities were at a significant disadvantage in terms of access to an educational experience that best facilitated their learning and met their individual needs. For instance, students with attention and concentration problems may have trouble focusing during in-person lectures and some students with physical and invisible disabilities may be unable to maintain regular in-person attendance as a result of their conditions. Additionally, deaf and hard of hearing students benefit from the closed captioning made available on the pre-recorded lectures the university is now offering for some courses. 

While Student Accessibility Services is available for students to seek accommodations to support their learning, the services provided by SAS are limited and may fail to completely meet the needs of students. For example, SAS note takers are provided on a volunteer basis, meaning that if there are no student volunteers that come forward to provide notes for a given course, the students requiring accommodations will not receive the support they need to be successful in the course. Thus, students have had to rely on minimal and potentially unreliable accommodations such as having a note-taker for their courses, when they could have more support ensuring that the delivery method of their education is made more feasible for their learning needs. While it is disappointing that these students’ needs were not given priority and that it took a crisis like a pandemic for everyone to realize that these measures could have been implemented earlier, it would be extremely beneficial to have these accommodations implemented in future. 

While it is disappointing that these students’ needs were not given priority and that it took a crisis like a pandemic for everyone to realize that these measures could have been implemented earlier, it would be extremely beneficial to have these accommodations implemented in future. 

Moving forward, it is imperative that McMaster University re-evaluates the extent to which it offers accommodations so that they can support all types of learners, including neurodivergent students and students with disabilities. The current accommodations with online learning may not be necessary for all students once the pandemic improves, but remote or blended learning should still be offered as an option for students who learn better this way. Making access to class materials online and not just in-person allows students who are unable to attend every class, due to mental health symptoms or disabilities, to catch up. The same goes for students who need mobility aids during a harsh winter semester with many snowy days, which may hinder their ability to make it to class.

While creating these accommodations are undeniably a timely and effortful process, it yields results that support an inclusive learning environment and ensures that all students can excel in their educational endeavours. Empowering all students in education, beyond those who are neurotypical and able-bodied, is a matter of great importance. Accordingly, postsecondary institutions must transcend beyond using the universal design for instruction in order to meet these needs.

The field of medicine lacks diversity because applying to medical school is inaccessible

CW: ableism, racism, classism

Coming into university, I thought I was going to be a doctor. I got accepted into health sciences and thought that health was something I wanted to pursue. While I am still passionate about health care, I’ve come to many realizations during my undergraduate degree — with one of them being that I am unable to apply to medical school due to my disabilities.

It’s hard to face the reality that some things might be unattainable for you when there is this mindset pushed that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. I agree that it’s good to work hard and set goals for yourself, but becoming a doctor is a bit more complicated than simply “working hard.”

It’s hard to face the reality that some things might be unattainable for you when there is this mindset pushed that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. I agree that it’s good to work hard and set goals for yourself, but becoming a doctor is a bit more complicated than simply “working hard.”

The first barrier I came across was the lack of accessibility surrounding the application process. For most Canadian medical schools, you have to write the Medical College Admission Test in order to apply. The MCAT is a multiple choice examination that covers a wide variety of subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology, and assesses your critical thinking and problem solving skills. 

Typically, the MCAT is a seven hour and 30 minute-long test where you are not allowed to access water or food except for during the scheduled breaks. To allow for things such as extra time, a separate testing area or even water or food during the testing period, you have to apply for accommodations.

Accommodations for the MCAT are known to be notoriously difficult to access according to many applicants. You need to submit a profile, your condition, history, a personal statement that talks about your experiences and a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified professional. The problem with this is that many people with disabilities may not always have a “proper” diagnosis since many conditions are hard to diagnose and may even take years — it took five years and several doctors to diagnose my rare knee condition. In addition, folks may face barriers in accessing healthcare services due to long wait times, racism, classism or other forms of discrimination. 

The Association of American Medical Colleges, which administers the MCAT, is known to be strict on accommodations. Even if you have extensive documentation for your disability, you may be denied accommodations. Many have shared such experiences on platforms such as Reddit, detailing the hardships of accessing accommodations. If you’re given accommodations, it could not be what you requested for. As a result, many people decide to “power through” instead of applying for an accommodation. In addition, up until 2015, MCAT accommodations used to be flagged for being administered in a non-standard setting, which could have an impact on your medical school applications.

Even amidst a pandemic, the MCAT is still running in-person — they have shortened the test from seven hours and 30 minutes with two 10 minute breaks and one 30 minute break to five hours and 45 minutes with three 10 minute breaks. It’s ironic that MCAT testing is in-person and could potentially put test takers at risk, while other standardized tests like the Law School Admission Test is online to accommodate for the pandemic. 

It’s ironic that MCAT testing is in-person and could potentially put test takers at risk, while other standardized tests like the Law School Admission Test is online to accommodate for the pandemic. 

Ableism isn’t the only barrier people face in applying to medical school. A recent study found that McMaster University Medical School applicants often come from upper-class families, with the median income of $98,816 being almost $30,000 higher than the average Canadian. From those who were accepted into McMaster, the median income was $105,959. This creates a huge disparity in healthcare: low-income patients will often lose out on the opportunity to have a physician that can empathize with their experiences or fully understand conditions that disproportionately affect low-income people. 

Applying to medical school is difficult, but low-income students have it even harder because the cost of applying to medical school is high. Maintaining a high grade point average requires hard work and lots of studying, but when you’re juggling two or three jobs on top of that, it can be exceedingly difficult. Not to mention that while low-income students often have to work jobs, students that are more well-off can spend their time doing volunteer work or extracurricular activities that can boost their resume. Upper-class students can also pay for MCAT prep courses to help boost their scores, which can cost up to $2000. If you’ve received a medical school interview, you may also need to book a bus, train or plane ticket for the in-person interview depending on where the school is located.

Another disparity that has been very visible this year is the lack of Black and Indigenous medical students in Canada. Very few Black students have been admitted to McMaster Medical School for the past five years and other Canadian medical schools historically haven’t done much better with admitting Black and Indigenous students either.

Very few Black students have been admitted to McMaster Medical School for the past five years and other Canadian medical schools historically haven’t done much better with admitting Black and Indigenous students either.

In the class of 2020, I was the only Black medical student in my class! And my class was super amazing but I think it could of been better. Sign our open letter to the McMaster MD program to make huge improvements towards diversity and inclusion! https://t.co/GCJChL9kk6

— Oluwatobi Olaiya (@tobiolaiya_) June 20, 2020

Four years ago, I was also one of two Black students at #macmed. This letter and these demands are the culmination of years of work and advocacy, and I am so happy to see it put it into the universe. Sign and share. @MacHealthSci @MacMDAdmissions @JProfetto https://t.co/o7KqLlnqU8

— Sara Alavian (@Alavian_S) June 20, 2020

Although there have been some changes, such as Queen’s University changing their accelerated medical school route so that it is reserved for Black and Indigenous students only, many people have criticized these changes, as Black and Indigenous students will be entering an environment that may not be supportive. 

Although I appreciate the approach Queen's has begun to take, I do wish more was addressed on how these Black and Indigenous students will be properly supported at a school that is known to have blatant issues with racism especially for undergrads: https://t.co/Xy5SR4DSHb https://t.co/tVcg1bOfm4

— Iku Nwosu, MD (@IkuNwosu) July 24, 2020

I’ve always found it ironic that medical school is inaccessible in many facets — the fact that people with disabilities, low-income individuals and Black and Indigenous folks are disadvantaged when applying highlights the lack of doctors who belong to these identities. The best doctors that I’ve had are ones that can empathize with my experiences. But if the majority of doctors are abled, upper-class and not Black or Indigenous, you alienate a large group of people. 

Graphic C/O Ember

By: Ember, Contributor

I have previously written about how institutional ableism affects me and other students, but there’s another topic that is also overdue for discussion: casual ableism.

There are things that myself and other physically disabled people face on a consistent basis that an able-bodied person may not even realize are ableist. Using elevators, ramps and public transport, as well as navigating the campus in general — these activities are imperative to my everyday life, but are also an absolute nightmare.

The McMaster University Student Centre is home to many student services and it also acts as one of the main social hubs on campus, so it makes sense that it is very busy. I’m involved with and use multiple McMaster Students Union services within MUSC which span multiple floors of the building. I have lost count of how many times during those between-class rushes as well as during lunch hours that I have been bumped into, almost knocked over or completely plowed past by students and staff alike when walking to the elevators or using the ramp.

My cane is purple, it is loud, and it is very unlikely that able-bodied folks cannot hear it. I know you can see me — it is hard not to. My disability does not afford me the luxury to be subtle and small, so when you push past me, you’re making it clear that you have chosen to ignore my existence for your convenience. Is getting to your destination a few seconds earlier really worth disregarding basic human decency for myself and other physically disabled people?

Speaking of elevators, stop pressing the button and then walking away to take the stairs when it takes too long for the elevator to arrive. The reason why it is taking so long is because there are people on every other floor doing the exact same thing, and when I finally get on the elevator, it stops at every single floor. Somehow going from the first floor to the second floor of MUSC suddenly takes five minutes instead of 30 seconds. If you can take the stairs, just take the stairs — what have you gained by attempting to use and delaying accommodating utilities?

A side note: pressing the button for the elevator only to have it filled with able-bodied people who refuse to make room — all bearing sheepish or indifferent looks on their faces — is humiliating and degrading. The selfishness and misplaced entitlement to disability resources and accommodations make it that much harder for disabled people to exist and get around in public spaces.

Now let’s talk about public transit. Fellow students, I know that you love taking the bus for a couple of stops from inside campus into Westdale Village, but when you push past me to get on the bus when the bus driver specifically stops right in front of me to let me on first, know that I see you. When you fill up priority seating, placing down your bags or groceries beside you on another seat, I see you. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I end up standing on a crowded eastbound bus.

Not only do I feel pain, but I feel ashamed and dehumanized when able-bodied students see my physical form but refuse to acknowledge my need for accommodations. It wears me down and weighs on me day after day — my disability is hypervisible as I cannot hide it, but able-bodied people choose to not perceive me and my presence in order to absolve them of their guilt and responsibility for their actions.

Just because you hold the door open for me or press the automatic door button once does not mean you are at the apex of disability allyship. Check yourself, reflect on your actions, and deconstruct your saviour complex. You are not as perfect as you think you are.

 

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Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Kayla Freeman, Contributor

Since 2019, metal straws have taken over. Every day, I see at least 50 metal straws in peoples’ beverages. That should be a good thing, right? To some extent it is, but people aren’t choosing sustainability for the right reasons. Using a metal straw is currently a trend, but are metal straws even the right answer to saving our oceans and marine life?

Of course not. Imagine if saving the environment was that easy. Every day, 500 million disposable plastic straws are used and will likely end up in our waterways. This statistic can scare many people into thinking that the solution lies in replacing plastic straws with their metal counterparts. However, many people fail to realize what materials and emissions go into making a metal straw. 

The energy used to create one metal straw is roughly equivalent to creating 90 plastic straws, and also produces carbon emissions equivalent to 150 plastic straws. This may not seem like a lot, but in order to offset the environmental impact of creating a metal straw, it must be used over 150 times. 

We also need to consider the harsh reality of nickel mining that is necessary in order to create these trendy accessories. The Philippines is a predominant nickel supplier. Much of the soil in Palawan, a major nickel supplier in the Philippines, has been reduced to a wasteland. 

Metal straws are not the only items that are made out of nickel, meaning that they are not the sole contributors to the destruction of soil in Palawan. However, they are trendy accessories and are produced excessively. This is evidenced through the variety of designs metal straws are offered in. Our materialist society  does not hesitate to contribute to this “fast fashion” accessory, with celebrities such as Jeffree Star capitalizing on the movement by coming out with their own packs of metal straws. The excessive production of metal straws contradicts the environmentalist intentions that they are meant to fulfill.

If you’re purchasing a metal straw, you would assume that it would be made out of metal, right? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many of these items are not labelled due to their “eco-friendly” branding strategy as they are not required to list any ingredients since the straw is not being consumed. Safe metal straws should be made with food-grade stainless steel as any other materials may corrode over time. Safe metal straws should be made with food-grade stainless steel as any other materials may corrode over time. 

Additionally, painted or coloured straws also pose a risk of either contaminating the drink or containing unsafe chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA), which  is known to cause an array of health risks. Metal straws might not be the only alternative to disposable plastic straws, but they are very popular because of their durability and cost-effectiveness. 

Make no mistake, I think that we should try to be as eco-friendly as possible. But if you are going to opt for a reusable straw, try to purchase locally and support Canadian businesses, such as Glass Sipper. It’s important to keep in mind that when you are trying to be sustainable to be aware of what goes into the production of “eco-friendly alternatives” because sometimes the good intent gets lost in the action.

 

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Photo by Cindy Cui /  Photo Editor

By Ember, Contributor

Recently, there’s been a lot of push for individual initiatives to combat climate change. This can be considered admirable and noble – but they hardly scratch the surface of the problem. These initiatives tend to overlook industries as the largest contributors to climate change, the Global North’s role in plastic pollution and they place misdirected blame on disabled people.

In a scientific paper that outlines that the Pacific Ocean is rapidly accumulating plastic, Laurent Lebreton et al. states the following findings.

“Over three-quarters of the [Great Pacific Garbage Patch] mass was carried by debris larger than five cm and at least 46 per cent was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for eight per cent of the total mass but 94 per cent of the estimated 1.8 (1.1–3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area,” they say.

Almost half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’s mass is abandoned gear from industry fishing. Another 20 per cent of the mass is thought to be remnants from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In comparison, Seth Borenstein, a journalist, noted the extremely small proportion of plastic waste made up of plastic straws.

“Straws on average weigh so little – about one sixty-seventh of an ounce or .42 grams – that all those billions of straws add up to only about 2,000 tons of the nearly nine million tons of plastic waste that yearly hits the waters,” Borenstein said. 

Banning plastic straws seems pretty asinine when you consider a few different factors. It’s interesting how alternatives like the new Starbucks lids were created to replace the use of plastic straws, but they have been found to contain an equivalent amount or more plastic than what a plastic straw contains. Christian Britschgi, an associate editor at Reason, described the miniscule impact of the Starbucks nitro lids.  

“Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size,” said Britschgi.

Point blank, this “solution” is performative – it is a cheap tactic spearheaded by a corporation to make the common folk feel like they’re making a difference in regards to climate change when it really amounts to nothing. 

Then why not use paper straws or reusable straws? Well, because these options are awful. Often times, banning plastic straws does not take into account how alternative straw materials can be detrimental to disabled people. 

 “Biodegradable [straw] options often fall apart too quickly or are easy for people with limited jaw control to bite through. Silicone straws are often not flexible – one of the most important features for people with mobility challenges. Reusable straws need to be washed, which not all people with disabilities can do easily. And metal straws, which conduct heat and cold in addition to being hard and inflexible, can pose a safety risk,” said Godoy.

Another thing to keep in mind is that biodegradable straws can also be made of soy – a common allergen – and because it isn’t food, corporations aren’t required to disclose ingredients on the packaging. 

Putting the responsibility on disabled people to survive in public without plastic straws because you don’t believe stores should offer straws is venomous. 

It’s not that disabled people don’t care about the environment – we absolutely do. But instead of demonizing us for existing, shouldn’t able-bodied people help create an accessible, environmentally friendly alternative to plastic straws? 

Currently, I am a student studying earth and environmental science, and I’m aiming to get a minor in sustainability. I am also disabled and I realize that climate change is larger than any one of us. 

However, it’s important to note that often disabled people are the ones being accused of holding the environmental movement back, while corporations are conveniently cropped out of the frame. The big picture of climate change and environmental collapse is large enough for all of us to fit inside – so please don’t forget that industries play a large part, too.

 

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Photo C/O @djnontario

By: Donna Nadeem

The Disability Justice Network of Ontario is a Hamilton-based organization launched in September by McMaster alumni Sarah Jama and Eminet Dagnachew and McMaster student Shanthiya Baheerathan.

The co-founders initially got together because of their aligning interests. For instance, Jama was working with the McMaster Students Union Diversity Services as an access coordinator, trying to push the university to create a service for people with disabilities.

“I always think that there is more that could be done, that the institution doesn’t do a good job of supporting people with disabilities in terms of responding to professors who don’t want to accommodate. There is still a lot from what I’m seeing as a person who has graduated,” said Jama.

Last year, the co-founders received an Ontario Trillium grant over 36 months to create and run the organization. The basis of DJNO is to pose questions to the community of people with disabilities to see what it is they want to work on and how DJNO can use their resources to support the community it serves.

One of DJNO’s larger goals is to politically activate and mobilize people with disabilities who consistently get left out of conversations that affect their lives.

“Our goal is to politically activate and mobilize people with disabilities across the city and the province over time and to be able to hold the institutions and places and people accountable for the spaces that they create,” said Jama.

The research committee for DJNO has recently been working on data collection for a study on issues for racialized people with disabilities.

According to Jama, there is a lack of data collection on this subject.

The DJNO also has a youth advisory council that teaches people with disabilities how to politically organize.

In just a few months of being in operation, the DJNO has hosted several events, such as a community conversation event about the Hamilton light rail transit project, a film screening and panel discussion about Justice For Soli, a movement seeking justice for the death of Soleiman Faqiri, who was killed in prison after being beaten by guards.

The film screening and panel discussion was organized alongside McMaster Muslims For Peace and Justice and the McMaster Womanists.

On March 26, the DJNO will be hosting an event called “Race and Disability: Beyond a One Dimensional Framework” in Celebration Hall at McMaster.

This discussion, being organized in collaboration with the MSU Maccess and the MSU Women and Gender Equity Network, will tackle “the intersections of race/racialization, disability, and gender for all McMaster Community Members.”

Next week, the DJNO will also be organizing a rally with Justice for Soli in order to speak out against violence against people with disabilities.

The Justice for Soli team has been tirelessly advocating for justice, accountability, sounding the alarm of deeply systemic issues in the prison system, namely the violence that it inflicts on racialized peoples, and people with disabilities,” reads part of the event page.

For McMaster students interested in getting involved with the organization, DJNO has some open committees and is looking for individuals to help identify major community issues.

The campaign committee meets at the Hamilton Public Library monthly. Students can email info@djno.ca for more information.

 

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