February 11, 2016 Facebook Twitter Linkedin

King's Professor Pamela Cushing was invited as a panelist on TVO's premier news discussion show, The Agenda, with Steve Paiken. 

The show aimed to explore the pros and cons of recent decisions by the Ontario Government and Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) to shut down all sheltered workshops for people with intellectual disability in Ontario. The move came largely in response to a journalistic expose by the Toronto Star late last fall.  The reporter found that people in the same workshop were being paid less if they were disabled, leading to a law suit and assertions that this is a human rights issue.

Dr. Cushing has been doing research in the disability field since 2000 and focuses on social inclusion and intellectual disability in particular. She argued that while there is no question that there are some 'bad apple' providers that need to be held accountable, that there are several complicating issues in play including: the great diversity of capacities and needs among the 2.8% of the population with this label, the claw-back rules of ODSP (Ontario disability support payments), and the many sheltered workshops that are well run and provide the primary work and social opportunities for people.

"The story has been dominated by rhetoric about rights and inclusion - as if we could wave a magic wand and presto - mainstream employers would be lining up to hire people with disability. That is simply not a reality right now. Here we are bumping up against the limits of "rights" language - you can't legislate the public to care - you have to work at nurturing understanding the gifts that disabled people bring to the table ... they don't want charity - they want respect - and to get there requires thoughtful re-scripting of stereotypes. This is possible and internally many organizations from L'Arche to Hutton House to Community Living are achieving this, but it will take greater efforts to turn the volume up on that story for the public." 

This is the kind of nuance that students in the Disability Studies program at King's University College are learning in each class - that progress in creating a more inclusive society has more to do with changing the environment (from buildings to policies to attitudes) and less to do with pathologizing and 'fixing' disabled people.