“Dear Everybody,” from Canadians with disabilities

Listen to this post:

I don’t often write about rehab programs. This blog has long been a space to center perspectives and ideas of people who typically end up in rehab, not the people who run rehab programs. Which is why I’m writing about one today. The Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto has a new campaign designed to preserve and amplify the voices of youth and young adults with disabilities. It’s the “Dear Everybody” campaign, and it’s designed to address disability stigma. I love it. Tools for reducing stigma should be mandatory in rehab providers’ training! I wish that my own rehab providers could have helped me address it more than the reassuring pat on the shoulder and the, “I’m sure it’s not that bad” platitudes. That doesn’t actually address stigma. And getting better is not the only thing on our minds when we’re in the clinic. But back to Toronto!

Maddy Hearne, one of the youth ambassadors for the campaign has had multiple concussions and has to wear sunglasses and headphones quite a bit. Oh, Maddy. I can relate! I’m off the sunglasses now, but I’m never out of the house without my earplugs, noise cancelling headphones, or both. Maddy’s school didn’t meet her accommodations needs, and she also got stigmatized and lost her friends over things like her need for accommodations and how she had to make adjustments in her life. Hey, anyone with a TBI reading this who faced stigma and lost their friends, raise your hand. I know it’s nearly every one of you. Of us. And it’s not just people with brain injury who face this, not by a long shot.

But while you’re here, check out this video of Maddy. She sits in a chair and addresses the camera about some of her thoughts around accommodations. I love the part when she says that she wishes disability accommodations and helping each other were just seen as normal, just what we do. Real Closed Captions!

When you visit the Dear Everybody website, you’ll find lots of youth and young adult stories focused on self-advocacy and bringing to light the indescribably horrid rates of isolation, exclusion, bullying, and stigma that disabled people routinely face. But I feel like for the most part in the media, it’s adult voices who are telling these stories. There are also tip sheets for parents and educators to download. They’re pretty informative and written in nice plain language, although it seems they’re not made screen reader accessible.

I hope anyone interested in disability stigma and advocacy will check out the site. I think it’s so neat to go to a rehab hospital’s website and find so much addressing social issues, not just content about rehab and recovery and treatment. I mean, yeah, they provide medical care and rehab and do tons of research there. But it’s obvious they provide so much more and that they want disabled people’s full humanity to be recognized.