Break Barriers, Open Doors

Did you know that about 15% of the world’s population lives with some kind of disability? That means more than 1 billion people are facing all kinds of frustrating barriers: physical, social, economic and attitudinal. It is believed that about 2.3 million people live with Multiple Sclerosis, many of us dealing with these same barriers.

Earlier this week, the world recognized another International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on December 3 and this year’s theme was, “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”.  We were encouraged by the folks over at UN Enable, a division of the United Nations, to think about these key words throughout the day: include, organize, celebrate and take action.

Although the day has passed, our journey has not. When I read these four powerful words, a flux of emotions come over me. One in particular stands out.

I feel inspired.

Now, I am not talking about the kind of inspiration that motivates us to get out the poster boards, markers and tape to create signs as we picket the government and local businesses, chanting “what do we want? Equal rights! When do we want it? Now!” Rather, I am talking about the kind of inspiration that moves us forward on the journey of breaking down the barriers we MSers face, in some or all aspects of our lives, simply on the basis of human equality.

That’s a tall order.

So, just how do we accomplish this? Well, I certainly do not have all of the answers and wonder if we can develop an action plan, together. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Consider using different language. When communicating, we can try to put the person first, not the disability. Use “person with disability” not “disabled person”, in our conversations. This slight change focuses more on a person’s individuality and can be empowering. For more positive phrases, visit the ODEP website (they have a pretty good list so do check ‘em out). These changes are not always easy and I certainly have slipped at times. It’s really about a process to progress, not a process to be perfect.

Stand up and ask for accommodation. We have all kinds of resources at our disposal and, when it comes to disability in the workplace, we’ve got a bunch of rights too. I am a big believer in asking for the tools needed to be effective. As a person with hearing loss, this is really important because if my EVP shares insights, I want to be all ears! To help with this, I was able to get a Pocket Talker, courtesy of my employer, to help hear well during large meetings. What a difference! When I use it, I feel included and those feelings of isolation diminish. As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, I haven’t required assistance (yet!). Besides, I’m not quite ready to blow my cover as Secret Agent C.

Celebrate! Who doesn’t love a party? If you know someone who has made a contribution in breaking down barriers and opening doors, let’s celebrate them! I can think of a mighty few, right here on this space, who deserve applause: Lisa, Kim, Cathy, Laura, Nicole, Nikki, Ashley, Jackie and Stephen. Stand up, take a bow. You have all done amazing work for our community and I am honored to know y’all.

Can you think of anything else we can add to our action plan? Drop us a line and let us know what you think. I invite you to continue striving for ways to focus on the inclusion of disability, in all aspects of our lives. Because when we break down barriers, to be more inclusive, we really do begin to open doors.

Best always,


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