Tag Archives: Disability

Invisible Diversity at the Workplace

Searching for my AFP Fellowship project was an admittedly difficult process. Looking in the mirror, I see what others see – a privileged white male – and yet for most of my life, on the inside, I hid and repressed my sexuality out of a deep fear of retaliation from people I loved and cared about. I was intrigued by the relationship between the deep vulnerability I felt with the outward perceptions that people had of me. I decided to lean into the idea.

As I explored project ideas with friends, people would often share their own version of a deeply-held vulnerability that they lived with in silence. In one instance, a person disclosed their HIV status, in another situation someone shared their current struggle with substance abuse… in each case someone related with the gap between the outward presentation of who they are and the challenges of their own unique circumstances.

Previously, in my work as Vancouver Park Commissioner, I worked directly with communities to pass a set of recommendations aimed at making Vancouver the most inclusive city in the world for trans and gender-variant peoples. Learning from that experience told me that an intersectional and community-led – meaning those who the solution is designed to help are the designers of the solution itself – approach was needed in order to be authentic and responsive to real needs.

Based upon my experience, I worked with other staff on Tides Canada’s reconciliation, equity, diversity, and inclusion committee to source the various ways that people can identify within the varied spectrum of invisible diversity as a start to begin exploring ways to address them. We then went out to all staff, inviting them to participate, and engaged with them in discussions about the various ways that we should consider invisible diversity. Our experience generated great response and discussion, leading to the following list:

Class / Economic Status
Salary / Income
Inherited vs. earned capital
Economic / job opportunity

Mental Health
Isolation / Loneliness
Eating-related illness (bulimia / anorexia)
PTSD / schizophrenia / cognitive-related issues
Suicidal thoughts
Memory loss

Sexuality and Gender Identity
Heterosexuality / Homosexuality / Bisexuality / Pansexualiy / etc…
Non-binary gender / male / female /  intersex / 2-spirit / hijra / butch / femme / trans man/woman
Gender reassignment surgery / hormones

Physiological Health
Ability to live independently vs. dependency for tasks/activities
Wheelchairs / walkers / physical access restrictions
Disease / infection / chronic illness
Organ-related conditions (heart, liver, kidney disease, etc…)

Personality Type
Introversion vs. Extroversion
Innovation vs. traditional approaches
Conflict / disagreement style

Cultural Norms
Language / dialect / vocabulary / communication style
Music / food / cultural traditions
Routine / daily practices
Family structure
Holidays / celebrations

Religion / Spirituality
Monotheism / Polytheism / Nontheistic religion / Spiritual practice / Agnosticism / Atheism
Philosophy / ethics

Political Beliefs / Affiliations
Left-wing / right-wing / centrism
Political affiliation vs. no affiliation
Voting rights / privileges
Stances/beliefs about individual issues

Silent Generation / Baby Boomer / Gen X / Gen Y / Millennials / iGen
Life experiences

Marital/Family Status
Children vs. no children
Married/partnered vs. not


Access to education (affordability, geography, privilege)
Level of education
Experiences of trauma
Individual vs. intergenerational

I recognize that this list cannot possibly consider all needs of all people, but through sourcing directly from those people who will be impacted by decisions – the staff themselves – we can feel a degree of confidence that the unique ways that people identify at Tides Canada are captured in our list. Our work in this space will continue by focusing on each issue over the course of the year, and engaging staff in conversations about the considerations of each, and how we can make a more inclusive workplace by making practical changes that furthers inclusion for all. Already, thanks to this project, Tides Canada has started the “invisible diversity” subcommittee as part of our work on reconciliation, equity, diversity, and inclusion, to look at ways to bring unseen intersections into our work furthering an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.

Trevor Loke is development manager at Tides Canada Foundation and principal of Trevor Loke Consulting

The Power of Just Being Ourselves

Sometimes to make a difference, being ourselves can do good.

I recently went through a long period of dealing with impostor syndrome. You know, that feeling of ‘charade’ that makes you question your successes and achievements. Well, this state of mind quickly took hold during a diversity and inclusion training as part of the Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy of AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals).

I am actually a part of what we categorize as “diversity”. I meet two criteria: disability and sexual orientation. These criteria make no difference in my daily life. These criteria do not bother me, do not limit me in my career path and do not cause me any trouble / misfortune / prejudice / etc.

When I met the other Fellowship participants at the above-mentioned training, the shock was brutal. At a glance I understood why the others were selected to be part of this Fellowship. There were several women, a wheelchair user and several members of different ethnic and cultural communities. When I look in a mirror, I see a typical (and privileged) white man. That day I was sitting among people who undoubtedly had to work twice as hard as I did to get to where they are.

While experiencing this impostor syndrome in the strongest way possible during this training, I witnessed a very tough discussion between the facilitator and a participant on racial issues in Toronto – a topic very far away from my reality. I suddenly felt that this training was clearly not meant for me.

However, looking back, my understanding is now more nuanced and I believe that the training was in fact very much meant for me – to challenge my own perceptions of diversity.

This training gave me the opportunity to talk to both participants and others in my network, who all confirmed that I have a legitimate voice in the conversation about inclusion. In fact, everybody has a voice in this conversation.

I may not be an activist, but I am who I am 24/7. The simple fact of living in society, of living my life without embarrassment and without restraint, with my husband and my son – all this contributes to a slow but methodical deconstruction of the myths about people with disabilities and the LGBTQ2+ community.

Having said that – I still find myself asking if, considering the systemic barriers to inclusion, I have a duty to do more? Does staying in my comfort zone make me an obstacle rather than a diversity ally?

I remain convinced that sometimes being ourselves is the best force for changing perceptions. But it will never be enough.

Daniel H. Lanteigne is the Executive Director of the REA Foundation and Fellow of the Inclusion and Philanthropy Fellowship Program of AFP Canada (2018-2019). linkedin.com/in/dhlanteigne/

How Coming to Terms with my Disability Has Made me a Better Fundraiser

Age four. What do you remember from that time in your life? You likely have memories of your parents, your siblings, and a much loved pet or favourite toy. I have those treasured memories, but I also have the recollection of a diagnosis with a chronic disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth. All these years later, turns out that was a gift.

Even if you know me personally, you likely don’t know anything about my disease. It’s not something I talk about, or at least I didn’t talk about until relatively recently. Though I have always chosen to make light of my symptoms and resulting physical challenges, I have finally realized that it is a part of me that makes me unique, so why not celebrate it? Perhaps a by-product on my impending 50th birthday…but I digress…

So, what is Charcot-Marie-Tooth? A definition from the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation: “Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), named after the three doctors who first identified it, is one of the most common inherited nerve disorders. CMT affects an estimated 1 in 2,500 people in the United States and 2.6 million people worldwide…. CMT is also commonly called hereditary sensory and motor neuropathy. This means that the disease runs in families and causes problems with the sensory and motor nerves, the nerves that run from the arms and legs to the spinal cord and brain. Parts of the nerves—the axons and the myelin—become damaged, [so] messages that run along the nerves move more slowly or have a weak signal. … [This] causes muscles in the feet, legs, and hands to lose strength. Often, the muscle loss happens unevenly, which causes deformity as muscles waste away (atrophy) at different rates.” [1]

As a genetic disease, my doctors knew what they were looking for as several family members also have CMT. This did not stop my parents from enrolling me in all manner of activities – and I am forever grateful for that. My Father led a very active and “normal” life with the disease, so there was no way I was going to do anything different! As a child I was enrolled in dance lessons, Brownies, swimming lessons – active and social engagement that my Mother has always espoused as important in a child’s development. In high school I played clarinet, volunteered at the local hospital, I was a cheerleader (!), yearbook editor and valedictorian of my graduating class – a normal life by all accounts. There was no dwelling on the challenges of the disease, it was a “get on with it and do what needs to be done” approach that resonated loud and clear in my family. I often joke that the British “stiff upper lip” stereotype definitely applied here.

I came to Fundraising as a career later in life. I was not formally educated as a fundraiser. I had a wonderful twenty-two year career in television production in Toronto. I moved to small town Ontario on the shores of Georgian Bay, and pursued a new life outside of the big city in 2007. In this pursuit I came upon an opportunity that has been, in retrospect, exactly what I needed.

As a professional Fundraiser for a small hospice organization, I have been privileged to see first-hand the power of kindness and generosity. Through my on-going education about fundraising I have come to appreciate that it is all about the impact – to best understand the impact that the donor wants to make and to find the ‘fit’ with the impact able to be made by the organization. I get to hear the donor stories, but I also get to hear the stories of those who are impacted, and this is where the connection to living with my own disability has been made for me. I have heard stories from others dealing with chronic disease and life-limiting illness. I have been witness to their challenges and struggles, but I have also been witness to their empowerment when they have found acceptance of their own health challenges. If they can be so brave, what has been impeding my acceptance of my own disability all this time?

If I am to be completely honest, part of my hesitation in self-identifying as a disabled person was because of my perception of the ‘label’ that comes with the term disabled. I never once saw my Father, Grandmother, Aunt or any other relative as anything other than ‘able’; differently-abled, sure, but not un-able or dis-able. Is this a blind spot in my perspective? You bet. But as Hamlet says in my favourite Shakespeare soliloquy: “aye, there’s the rub” . MY perspective and MY perception, and as we know the world is full of other perspectives. And I was afraid of the judgement of others because of their perspective and their perception of me if I was to self-identify as disabled.

Through my work as a Fundraiser, I have had the honour of coming to know some of the strongest people who have lived with chronic disease, yet the reality is that most of these individuals are at their end of life when I meet them. These people have opened up themselves, and their families, in the most vulnerable way – to receive care from perfect strangers – and it is yet other perfect strangers who have provided the funds to administer that care. I do not take this gift lightly, and it has changed me. I have learned to listen, really listen, and better appreciate the little things in life. I have learned to accept my own limitations, and even to honour them. Selfishly, it is very freeing to say without apology, this is the true me, and I have the incredible people with whom I have worked to thank for giving me the strength to do so. It has made me more mindful of others’ perspectives and has made me a better Fundraiser.

Janet Fairbridge is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and an Inclusion and Philanthropy Fellow with the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada.

[1] https://www.hnf-cure.org/charcot-marie-tooth-disease/ (What is Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease?)

The AODA – An Effort in Making Workspaces More Accessible

Today, over 6.2 million Canadians live with a disability and 71 per cent of those are persons with a chronic or ‘invisible’ disability.

In Ontario, one in seven people has a disability and that number is anticipated to rise with the aging population across the province.

At the same time more than 40 per cent of Ontarians with disabilities have some type of postsecondary credential. And workers with disabilities generally provide a different perspective leading to more workplace innovation and design.
Yet, 70 per cent of small businesses say they have never hired a person with a disability.

Perhaps the biggest barrier that persons with a disability face are misconceptions held by employers about the skills of disabled people, their absence rates and the insurance costs they would pay if they hire those individual. In actuality, when businesses have reported a cost to accommodate an employee with a disability, the average amount spent is $500.

People with disabilities are ready and able to work so I am posing the questions: How are their needs accommodated in the workplace and; what can the Not-for-profit Sector do to lead the way?

The needs of workers with chronic and disabling conditions can be met through the redesigning of jobs and workplaces, or modifications to the work environment to remove job-related barriers.

In 2015, Ontario celebrates 10 years of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which made Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada with legislation that sets out a clear goal and timeframe for accessibility by 2025. Under this historic legislation, the government of Ontario has developed mandatory accessibility standards that identifies, removes, and prevents barriers for people with disabilities.

The AODA will help Ontario organizations, including Not-profit organizations, make accessibility a regular part of recruiting, hiring and supporting employees with disabilities.

But Ontario is falling short of its 2025 goal to ensure the province’s 1.8 million people with disabilities have the opportunity to learn, work and play to their full potential. For example, in 2013 it was reported that $24 million in government funds earmarked to oversee the law since it was passed remain unspent.

More than 60 per cent of businesses are still in violation of the province’s accessibility legislation, according to new government data. And while organizations that do not comply with the AODA could face financial penalties, court enforcement and prosecution, penalties are not being enforced.

This past July, the Ontario government published a plan to lay out some steps the government is taking to re-energize the movement and ensure that we reach the goal of an accessible Ontario in the next decade.

The plan reinforces that the biggest hurdle organizations face are are the misconceptions about employees with disabilities. Critical to changing these assumptions is organizations building and promoting a culture that embraces inclusion and diversity.

There is a tremendous opportunity for the Not-for-profit Sector to lead by example and promote this cultural shift. After all, for many organizations in the Not-for-profit Sector, the requirements of the AODA reflect the existing organizational values, vision and mission.

A Not-profit’s endorsement of the act is a public demonstration of its commitment to accessibility, inclusion and diversity.

The Ontario Non-profit Network is highlighting Non-profits that are championing accessibility, and so far there is only one case study on the website that focuses on embracing inclusive communities. I expect the number of examples to grow throughout the year.

Below is a condensed list of recommendations for organizations to consider:

  1. Start the conversation –Open the dialogue within your organization. Consider how the issues surrounding employing people with disabilities apply to your business.
  2. Determine your track record for hiring and accommodating people with disabilities – How inclusive is your organization? Look at the demographics of your organization chances are you already employ or serve people with disabilities. This is a great opportunity for you to develop a formal strategy for reaching these important stakeholder groups.
  3. Start with human resources – Does your HR team include people with disabilities? Are team members sensitive to the issues and trained to hire from this talent pool? Have they reviewed job descriptions with hiring managers to confirm that requirements are genuine?
  4. Check your website –Ensure you are not screening out people with disabilities by using inaccessible technology, and that you are providing opportunities to give people with disabilities a fair chance to compete.
  5. Engage and educate your people –Invest in education to dispel myths and give people the facts, tools and language they need to manage and work with people who have disabilities.
  6. Find community partners – Reach out to agencies, non-profits, and other organizations focused on training and employing people with disabilities.
  7. Partner with educational institutions – Establish relationships with offices for students with disabilities at colleges and universities—perhaps those where you already have hiring experience—to recruit students with disabilities.
  8. Collaborate within your industry – Develop alliances with external associations and agencies and share resources, tools and best practices you have adopted for workplace accommodations.
  9. Share successes with the world – Share your organization’s experiences on your website, in your annual reports and in your advertising. Not only will you elevate the dialogue, you will benefit from marketplace goodwill and increased access to the massive consumer market made up of people with disabilities.

Not- profit leadership is critical in implementing these steps. Organizations need to formalize their commitment to hiring people with disabilities in company policies and guidelines. The role of the board should be to provide oversight and governance of this commitment.

What role do the rest of us play in dispelling misconceptions about persons with a disability? Are there steps that we can take to inform leaders and help create a more inclusive environment?

These are some of the questions I will try to answer in my next blog post!