Stereotyping Through Stigma

“The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity – that it’s this or maybe that – you have just one large statement; it is this.” – Chinua Achebe

I have spend the better part of my adult life fighting stereotypes and continue to this day.  To often stereotypes are based on first impressions and grow from there.  As a person in a wheelchair I already know when I enter a room the first thing people recognize is the “wheelchair”.  It then becomes my responsibility to work them past that and recognize me as the person in the chair, that I am not the “chair”.  I have been doing that for so long it is just second nature to me.  There has always been a stigma attached to a disability which leads to stereotyping.

Growing up in a children’s hospital, in its own way, sheltered me from stigma.  We all had disabilities and we didn’t have a ranking system so one wasn’t worse or better than another.  That sheltered me from being stereotyped.  We were a family and we had continual activities provided by well meaning people.  Monday’s were arts and crafts provided by the forerunners of the new profession of the occupational therapy.  Tuesday’s was guides/brownies and the boys had that one night to just veg out with the on TV, games or reading.  Laid back.

Thursday’s was the girls night off while the boys attended scouts/cubs.  Wednesday’s was the nigh that a cross section of religions would come in to sing hymn’s or do readings from a cross section of faith.  Church service (Catholic or Protestant) were always held on Sunday morning so I had a good cross section of exposure to many religions.  We saw little examples of stereotyping because we were the audience and all of these activities were being conducted by well meaning people.

The stereotyping didn’t really start to impact me until I left the commonality of the hospital.  It was when I started my voyage as a contributing member of the community that I started to recognize “stereotyping” hidden behind the stigma of the word “disabled”.  Having grown up with my condition I never saw myself disabled, I just saw it as normal.  Disability was a stereotypical condition imposed on me by a society that couldn’t see past the concept of “normalcy”.  It wasn’t until my body began to fail me restricting me to a wheelchair that I began to understand the stereotype.

Black and white picture of women on what appears to be barren country side

Understanding the details

I had a very good friend by this past weekend and we had an excellent Saturday evening visit.  He is one of those rare friends that is such a privilege to have.  One of the topics we discussed was the young girl who reportedly had someone try to cut her niqab off her face.  Of course that has now proven to be a false story with a system to quick to jump on it however for my purposes that’s irrelevant now.

The issue in our conversation was my buddies belief that facial coverings should be banned.  His expressed fear was the “slippery slope” that could bring Sharia law into Canada.  I don’t share those fears but I do share his sentiment that people immigrating or living in Canada live by the laws of this country.  We are the envy of the world for our diversity in culture but that shouldn’t mean trading away “laws”.  We can maintain our laws without giving up cultural diversity.

The great thing about a close and open minded friend is that it is not about getting either to adopt the others philosophy but more importantly to respect the differing of opinions.  We know each other well enough and have found ourselves here before were we move onto the next topic of discussion.  There was no verbal agreement to agree to disagree, we just know internally that it was time to move onto the next topic.  One trait that defines a close friendship is the unspoken ability to be accepting of the other persons beliefs rather than demanding they accept your perspective.  That kind of acceptance is about avoiding stereotypes by understanding stigma.

To me wearing a niqab speaks to culture, not religion.  Sharia law is about religion, not culture.  Canada may be a multicultural country but we shouldn’t be adopting legal processes that are counter-productive to our own culture.  That “slippery slope” my buddy spoke of is already here and it is manifesting itself in issues like “faith based hospitals” refusing the newly adopted Canadian laws around dying with dignity.  Tax dollars should go to the healthcare guaranteed to all and not some ideology that is acceptable where it should be, a persons place of worship.

I do my best not stereotype individuals or cultures based on the stigma created by the most extreme of those sectors.  Despite the residential schools I don’t brand every priest a pedophile.  I don’t paint every Mormon with the same brush because of the activities of Winston Blackmore in Bountiful.  Again there is a particular stigma attached to that type of stereotyping.

So ask yourself, are you responding to a stereotype or a stigma?  In closing I would like to highlight that the opening quote was from Chinua Achebe, an author and scholar from Nigeria, a country recently stereotyped by the President of the United States…






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Generational Gaps Killed Sears

Most people don’t grow up.  Most people age.  They find parking spaces, honour their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity.  What that is, is aging.” – Maya Angelou

Growing up as a baby-boomer the arrival of the Sears Christmas Wish catalogue was one of the simple joys of the time.  The Sears closure not only marks the end of a Canadian business icon but emphasizes the importance of understanding your demographics.  If you continue to focus only on the core of your business, your base, eventually you will lose.  Demographics are very fluid, relying on your core is like preaching to the choir.  You will probably always have them behind you but the seats in the hall start getting pretty thin.

A popular mantra of my generation was “never trust anyone over thirty”.  It was attributed to Jack Weinberg, an early environmentalist and one of the founders of the “Free Speech Movement” (FSM).  The FSM, incubated in the mid 60’s helped feed the growing civil rights movement while laying the foundations of the baby-boomer generation.  The average life expectancy at that time was 73 which made policy makers of the day the 30+ age group.  These were the staples of the Sears wish-book and represented everything many baby-boomers were rebelling against.

Picture of small rocks with the inscription "Inside every senior citizen is a young person wondering what the #$%# happened!!

The rock garden of age

The generation that grew up embracing that mantra now make up the bulk of the very age group they were rebelling over.  However that mantra, buried deep in the foundation of their belief system, now makes it easier to deny aging.  We have modified that mantra to justify our own aging while abandoning the Sears approach to commerce.  Sears lived in a state of denial regarding their shrinking share of the market while baby-boomers live in a state of denying our own aging.

Sears is now the corporate poster child of what denial of demographics can do and no where is recognition of differing demographics more apparent than the adoption of technology.  On that Sears not only failed but dropped the ball on the bulk of their demographics, those the least likely to make the transition to e-commerce.  Not only is technology making a major impact on commerce but is also changing the face of FSM.  Technology and social media has thoroughly blurred the lines between free speech and effective communication.  In todays business world marketing is all about social media and if you don’t understand you will go the way of Sears, both as a consumer and a business. Continue reading

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Deconstructing Healthcare

“America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring or a system”  – Walter Cronkite

This opening quote can also be said of Canada now.  I grew up in a Canada when health-care had doctors who came to your home.  I grew up in a Canada where home birth’s were not uncommon quite often performed by a grand-mother or other community member.  Despite surviving the polio epidemic, I grew up in a healthcare system where we were encouraged to thrive.  And all of that was done despite the lack of a universal healthcare system.

The development of a national healthcare program did not happen overnight.  It was a process that took almost 20 years and didn’t become national until July 1, 1968.  For the past 30 years we have been dismantling advances made up to the late 80’s.

I grew up surrounded by healthcare.  I spend twenty-five years of my life working in an ever evolving healthcare system.  I think it is fair to say I have extensive experience and first hand knowledge of healthcare from the perspective of a service receiver and a service provider.

I left that profession in 1989 when it became apparent the erosion of healthcare was in its infancy.  Dollars, degrees and image were becoming more important than care, largely stemming from the rise of credentialism pushed the 80’s.  Prior to the 80’s hospital trained nurses were excellent but then hospitals started receiving more accreditation points for having more degreed nurses than hospital grads.  Today nobody remembers hospital grads.

Interestingly enough Robert Reich, (Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California Berkeley) identifies the 80’s as a starting point of the major erosion we are now seeing in so many areas of public policy.  The Big Picture is worth the 6 minutes view, educate yourself.  However that’s fodder for another day, back to the topic at hand, healthcare or lack there of.

From healthcare I moved into the field of policy development.  I began working for the government as a policy analyst and discovered the same skills required to be a good medical social worker were not all that different from the abilities needed to be a policy analyst.  The only thing that changed was the content I was dealing with.

That career change heightened my awareness of “silo thinking” and the effect it has in society.  You cannot manage a healthy environment by separating health from education from labour and from social programs.  Those are really the four pillars of any healthy community and to focus on one while ignoring the others leads to chaos and decay.

The credentialed professionals we pushed in the 80’s have spend the last 30 years establishing policies and falsehoods designed to protect their turf.  We now live in a country where health “administration” has been sold to a whole generation as health “care”.  Healthcare involves taking care of those requiring care, health “administration” is about how money is spread out to accomplish health care.  It’s about budgets and spreadsheets not care.  But guess who gets paid first, administration.  Most of the VIHA administrators I have met have never been by a patients bedside.

But they keep creating ridiculous policies to justify their existence.  A few quick lessons in health administration budgeting.  I use a sleeping pill that I have used on and off for over twenty years.  It’s been around for so long it is only available now by it’s generic name, Nitrazepam 10mg.  It’s an low end hypnotic and a very safe sleeping aid.  It’s part of my medication regime (one of 7 prescriptions).  My doctor, on a yearly basis, writes prescriptions which I then give to my pharmacist so they can go on my record.  I pick up three months supply at a time except for the Nitrazepam. Continue reading

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A Hostage of Circumstance

“The biggest restriction to independence for the disabled is the perception of retaliation for speaking out” – Terry Wiens (2018)

I am so pissed off right now I need to speak out.  I have been a hostage of circumstance for the past four years and I’m tired of it.  I own part of the responsibility but only part.  I accepted a “partially” accessible apartment based on the information provided by the building manager.  I accepted a lease for a place sight unseen rather than drive 600 KM to view it.  With that said I was very clear about being in a wheelchair and they send me responses leading me to believe that a one year old building met the current building codes.

It wasn’t until I arrived with a moving truck full of furniture that I discovered a difference of opinion in the differentiation between “building code” and “accessibility standards”.  But I settled, accept the place based on the belief that I could make enough accommodations to make it work for me.  I didn’t realize at the time that Nanaimo City Planning didn’t enforce accessibility standards, a practice I’m not use to.  An erosion of rights in a system I tend to take for granted, local governments enforcing accessibility standards.

It has now reached a point where I can no longer just “settle” and I am tired of watching small erosions of rights won.  Fortunately I can stand up to systemic issues without fear of reprisal.  Too many of my disabled peers can’t.  They are held hostage by circumstance to live in situations where speaking out could result in a retribution they can’t afford, financially or emotionally.  Sadly these systemic barriers just seem to be growing as programs are eroded or hidden behind complex policies and regulations.

The latest is a federal government policy that now restricts disabled Canadians from self-representation in their fight for government disability benefits.  They now require a lawyer.  Lawyers are expensive and most legal aid has disappeared.

Whether they can afford a lawyer or not becomes almost irrelevant because so many of them are fearful of speaking out.  They equate speaking out to this “biting the hand that feeds you” mentality.  That’s not standing up for your rights, that’s “settling” for the scraps that fall of the table.

Cartoon of lady laying on ground with two political figures withholding her wheelchair

We don’t want to enable you, we want you to be independent

My DNA doesn’t work that way.  I am no Robin Cavendish but I will be damn if I sit back and let his advancements for my rights be thrown aside simply as a cost savings process.  I have spend a life time speaking out and fighting for rights.  The few times I have “settled” I’ve lost.  I am by no means comparing myself to Robin Cavendish.  He was a man of strength and ideals but he helped lay the groundwork for much of my future.  He had a dream and a willingness to fight.  What he lacked in system supports was more than made up by the strength of his friends and family.

I am more of an opportunist with a social conscience who happened to be in the right place at the right time.  I was able to water the seeds of community inclusion in the garden he had established.  Where I am like Mr. Cavendish is that I was never one to just “settle”.  I helped pave my road by standing up to those who told me I couldn’t.  Every time we “settle”, we lose ground. Continue reading

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On the Issue of Survival

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change” – Leon C. Megginson

Many years ago I read a number of books written by Leon Megginson, an academic considered by many as a business guru.  The first one was written in 1972 entitled “Personnel – A Behavioural Approach to Administration” and the second “Successful Small Business Management” (1991).  Both looked at business through a social anthropology lens and spoke to survival in the labour market.

As a disabled person in 1972 entry to the labour force had no guaranteed hence the interest in Megginson’s writings.  As a survivalist any information I could glean was thoroughly researched.  This was a period when you could be refused an interview simply for being disabled with no consequence (or expectations) to the employer.

Major change happens incrementally and we can never take it for granted.  It took almost ten years to get to the point of “disability rights” where we couldn’t be discriminated against simply because of a disability.  However we cannot become complacent and stop fighting for what is right, not if we want to survive the current erosion of hard fought for rights…

ACH 1960

The Red Cross Children’s Hospital circa 1960, almost the edge of the city limits in those days

Growing up in the Children’s Hospital I learnt from a very young age to fight for survival.  That was drilled into you from the moment we awoke until we went to bed.  All the patient rooms were on the east side while the service departments were on the west side.

The solarium, our play room, occupied the entire top east wing was the solarium a small “fenced” outdoor area where you could go for fresh air.  The surgical and dentistry suites were on the second floor while physio and classrooms were on the first floor.  The main floor contained the entrance to the hospital, out patient clinics and the kitchens.

The early seeds of my desire to survive were planted in the hospital.  I had already survived the polio virus so I could survive a hospital.  You learn to fight without even realizing it.  You fight for your rights.  Survival in a facility means you take a stance for your independence.  That is also known as self-determination.  You learn to appreciate concepts like survival, compassion, and self-determination.  I understood that if I want to thrive then I also had to survive and the hospital taught me that.


You had to hold on to that fight.  A very vivid childhood memory was when I was 12 years old.  My roommate, an 11 year old named Peter, had just had his latest surgery two days prior.  He woke me in the middle of the night and whispered “I can’t he fight anymore”.  It was like he had woken me to say goodbye, something many didn’t have the chance to do.  About an hour and a half later the nurses were in there gently wrapping his body.  Through no fault of his own he had given up the fight.  I will never stop fighting. Continue reading

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2018 Write More Say Less

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” – Seneca

Welcome 2018.  I really had no intention of seeing the New Year in but after lying wide awake in bed for the past hour and a half I decided what the hell.  I had a few ideas floating around in my mind so decided to put some word to paper or in this case keyboard to blog.

I stopped doing the whole New Years resolution many years ago.  To me New Years resolutions are right up there with political campaign promises.  They sound good when you are making them but they become pretty misty when it is time to actually act.  However this year I have made a commitment to myself to avoid the dismal experience of repeating the mood altering process of 2017.  As I indicated in my last article 2017 was pretty dismal and I have to hold myself responsible for that.  I spend too much time focused on CNN, CBC and other equally political news shows.

The politics of the past year has been very disheartening and really highlights the shrinking middle ground of North American society.  There has been a major upswing in the polarization of current ideologies and as a hard core centrist I felt battered by the tsunami of negativity.  I think the best strategy I can adopt to counter that is write more often but say less.  More articles but short bursts.  Most people I know don’t want a lot of detail but something short and to the point.  That is my commitment for 2018.  Not to be overwhelmed with political drama (I won’t be ignoring it) but to produce more personal observations based on my historical involvement of todays society.

I can link this type of thinking to my childhood and the cognitive development of my beliefs.  Growing up in the children’s hospital involved short bursts of activities which had a major impact on my development so why not delve into that.

This current state of polarization is destroying the middle ground for a large part of what is generally referred to as the silent majority.  One of the things I have heard repeatedly throughout 2017 was the reluctance of family get togethers to introduce political discussion.  I remember a time where that kind of discussion could happen regularly with some form of compromise being reached.  Today compromise appears to have disappeared.  It has become hard core right or left ideologies.  Negativity abounds and too many good people have just abandoned any opportunity to an open discussion out of fear of resulting hard feelings.  I have seen more families ripped apart in the past year due to this polarization.

I have personalized too much of this as I watch hard fought for gains being eroded by so many who believe history began in 1980.  By 1980 I had almost fifteen years of activism under my belt and remember things like the 1963 peace march, the assassination of Medgar Evers, the same year John F Kennedy was assassinated, the 1968 killing of Martin Luther King, and the equivalent of the North American Arab Springs, the Kent State Massacre.  These were all results of the advancements being challenged by the civil rights movement.

Canada was not innocent either.  We had our own “October Crisis” involving the FLQ and resulting in the murder of Minister of Immigration and Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte,  We are not innocent but so many people born after 1980 are totally unaware of these events.  They seem to prefer a more simplistic approach and avoid detail.  That needs to stop before all of the advances made since 1980 including the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Freedoms only work when they are acknowledged and practiced

These were not black and white events but they did open the door for the middle ground required for effective civil rights.  The polarization we are now seeing is allowing these events to start creeping back into our society.  All of these things happened before I was twenty so to me they are not history, they are experiences that have molded me and I can’t in good conscience afford to abandon them now.

My commitment to improving 2018 is to write more but say less.  I hope you find it informative and helps give you the strength to speak out or question me.  I would also like to share some of what I call my “social awareness poetry”.  This one was a short statement about the environment.  Please enjoy and if you have questions leave it in the comment section and I will get back to you.

Nature’s Battle

Instant this and packaged that,

Designed to save man haste,

Landfills growing and air polluting,

Creating a poisonous waste,

Energy sources and expanding technology,

Helps man extend his life,

Waste and pollution all around,

Causing harm and strife.

The love of nature moves along,

New grass growing, old oaks strong,

Crisp snow melting on mountaintops,

Clouds above create raindrops,

Undoing man for what it’s worth,

Mother Nature cleansing the earth,

How can nature keep pace with man?

While we poison the earth in all ways we can.

Terry Wiens August 2005


Happy New Year not maybe I can sleep…

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2017 The Year to Not Look Back

“Ring out the false, ring in the true” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

The road through 2017 has been one of ruts, potholes and sometimes just plain erosion.  I usually approach New Years by taking the lessons I have learnt throughout the year to make myself better, not bitter but this year has been very challenging.  This is my farewell to 2017 short and me draining all of that pend up bitterness before going into 2018.  This may cost some relationships but growing up in a hospital you learn early that sometimes gain may require some pain.

I don’t believe I have had a year where I have felt as alienated as 2017.  A lot of this alienation is due to the assumption that my lexicon works from shared definitions, WRONG.  Something as simple as the use of the word “understanding” has a completely different meaning for me than many in my sphere of influence.  It’s not until one has actually walked a path or travelled a particular road that you can really appreciate the perspective of understanding.

Disability rights and access is like a living organism, continually evolving.  If you haven’t traveled it you will never really understand.  You may empathize but that isn’t understanding.  Complete understanding means seeing an issue that may not affect you directly but still take the time to make the powers that be aware that this isn’t good enough.  Be that an e-mail to a politician or a note to a corporate office.

Picture of a man standing by the roads end looking into uncoded distance, grids and axis

The road keeps changing and awareness is never ending.  My activism will never stop and shouldn’t be confused with a “rant”.  Recently, someone I’ve known my entire life, felt I was attacking siblings based on a comment I made about a shortage of family members with accessible homes.  This was followed up with a comment how I’ve always wanted to be “treated as an equal and not as a handicap”.  I’m not really sure what being “treated like a handicap” means but, to me, it doesn’t equate to equal.  I have paved my own road when it comes to equality as a disability activist.

In a later chat I tried to clarify with one of my brothers that no insult had been intended.  He assured me it was fine but felt I could have used a better descriptor than “understanding”.  My brother means well and helped me out a lot ten years ago when I was in crisis.  He helped me move from Victoria back to Alberta where I could stay in his “accessible” home.  I was very appreciative however a house with three stairs at each entrance plus an interior with all bathrooms, bedrooms and entertainment room on different levels is not exactly accessible.

That kind of understanding would be like me telling a blind friend that I understood their access issues then suggesting we go to the local Chinese buffet for supper.  A buffet is actually a barrier to someone with a visual impairment because you need to see.  Me suggesting a buffet shows a lack of understanding for access to a visual impairment.

Access is like a road continually under construction and like any road requires regular maintenance of what had been previously built.  That’s the road my generation help build.

It is frightening as I watch certain disability rights slowly being eroded which is why I will never stop my activism.  Last week the American Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew Obama era guidance documents on the Americans with Disabilities Act affecting how States and local governments provide employment services to the disabled.  A move that is seen as re-segregating the disabled.

Disability Now, a podcast I subscribe to from Britain, recently reported on the “extra costs commission” (a Commission set up by the government to look at the extra costs associated with disabilities) and 30% of an earned dollar goes to disability costs.  In a 2016 Nottingham University study there appears to be an increasing backlash in the workplace for employees with disabilities.  With Brexit looming over Great Britain right now there is a lot of concern within the disability activism community.  Access and disability rights regulations are contained in the EU regulatory system.  So far little has been said on what will replace those protections once Brexit is complete.

Meanwhile in Canada we have a federal Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities, Kent Hehr (a quadriplegic himself) insulting a group of Thalidomide survivor with his now famous quote “Everyone has a sob story“.  The City I live in fails to enforce the accessibility regulations contained in the building code.  These are the realities I understand because I wheel that road.

So yes 2017 has been a perfect mixture of materials to make me very bitter.  That part I do understand but I don’t have to hold on to it.  I need to turn that bitterness into something I can use to make 2018 a “better” year.  If the steps I take to accomplish that offends others I apologize.  This is about equality and the day to day issues I deal with so understand that.

Have a Happy New Year and all the best in 2018…

The Travelled Road

We grow up believing we can turn around,

Based on the path that travels the ground,

But the path of life is a one way street,

And we must deal with the souls we meet.

There’s no turning back to change the past,

The experience we have lived forever last.

There are other souls on life’s long road,

Carrying their memories as part of their load,

We meet those souls along the way,

Some move on while others stay,

What connects us to those so near?

What divides us from those we fear?

We travel long on the road of life,

Findings our joys, surviving our strife,

Meeting new people and making new friends,

Those special few who stay till the end,

Experiences shared make us who we are,

The road of life goes on so far.

Terry Wiens – May 2006

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