Eh Sayers Episode 1 - Talk about the barriers, not the disability: Activity limitations and COVID-19

Release date: November 25, 2021

Catalogue number: 45-20-0003
ISSN: 2816-2250

Eh Sayers podcast

This first episode of Eh Sayers is a heart-felt discussion on disability in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We discuss the realities of people living with disabilities, their challenges and all the changes that the pandemic has brought in their daily lives.


Tegan Bridge


  • Tony Labillois, Director of Public Sector Statistics and Champion for Persons with Disabilities at Statistics Canada
  • Michelle Maroto, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Alberta

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Eh Sayers Episode 1 - Talk about the barriers, not the disability: Activity limitations and COVID-19 - Transcript

Anonymous 1: Hello, I'm blind, and last year, 2020, when COVID started, it affected my husband and I. My husband, who's bipolar, became more manic with all the changes brought on by COVID, and I as a blind person was not able to cope with his erratic behaviour and had him brought to a hospital for treatment.

Anonymous 2: So, service dog training, like we go to malls, we go to parks--places to get them used to different things, but with the COVID and everything, it's like, I don't want to risk myself going out but like sometimes I'm like I kinda have to in order to train.

Anonymous 1: People talk about online shopping, online delivery, online meetings, and of course, they are very convenient, but for blind people, we use screen reading software, we find that a lot of websites and online apps are still not fully accessible.

Tegan: Welcome to the very first episode of Eh Sayers. It's a podcast from Statistics Canada, where we meet the people behind the data and explore the stories behind the numbers. I'm your host, Tegan. If you heard the preview we released June 3, you can skip ahead to about 11 and a half minutes in if you'd prefer to only hear the new content. Today, we're talking about disability. According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, more than 6 million Canadians aged 15 and over report having a disability. That's about 1 in 5 Canadians. So what do we mean when we say persons with disabilities?

Tony: Well, it can mean many things for many people, and some people will will have activity limitations and probably will not even think of themselves as being a person with a disability. We mean people with visible and invisible conditions that may affect them in their daily life or in their daily work.

Tegan: That's Tony Labillois.

Tony: My name is Tony Labillois. I'm the Director for public sector Statistics Division at Statistics Canada, and I'm also the champion for persons with disabilities in our organization since 2002. And I'm visually impaired since I was born. I have low vision. And for me it's normal vision.

Tegan: 1.5 million Canadians aged 15 years and over have a seeing disability, like Tony. What do you mean by invisible conditions?

Tony: You see, immediately, when you meet someone, like you will see that I have dancing eyes, if you see me, you notice that my eyes are different. So you know that I'm visually impaired or there's something different. But there's a lot of invisible disabilities, there's a lot of people where you will meet the person and you could not know that they have an activity limitation. And think about things like learning disability, mental health challenge, or even pain, chronic pain or hypersensitivity to the environment. All those things are affecting us as human beings, either for an episode of our life or permanently. And that's what can be included in persons with disabilities. But it doesn't mean that the person would recognize himself or herself as having a disability or being part of that group. It's a question of acceptance or a question of perception of our experiences... yeah our experiences.

Tegan: Could you talk a bit more about that? Why a person might not identify themselves as having a disability?

Tony: Yes, absolutely. I remember the time that when I was not even sure if I should self identify, or I wasn't sure I was even accepting myself as I was, as a teenager. And as we evolve as human beings, or as our condition evolves, as human beings, that perception might change. Unfortunately, disability or an activity limitation is something that can be acquired. So it may change our perception of ourselves. And it may change the way we answer a question, if there's a question, are you a person with disability? Yes or no. But there's also even despite the condition itself, there's a level of trust in ourselves and trust in others, acceptance of ourselves and the way we feel that we will be accepted or not by others, that will have an influence on us self declaring, especially if it's invisible. Someone wouldn't have to necessarily self declare.

So I may choose especially if it's an invisible disability not to disclose, we're all facing that as we're getting older. Unfortunately, we can acquire a disability, something very simple in many people's lives when they get in their 40s. And suddenly, they don't see as well as they used to, and suddenly they need glasses. But before they accept for themselves that they need to go see optometrist and get the right prescription, they will often try to look at a piece of paper that they receive in the mail or something else a bit further or closer to try to get the right focus and so on. It's a very simple example where there's the need to accept that they will need that accommodation in their life. It's usually something that will not generate any discrimination in society because many people already have glasses, and it's accepted socially and professionally, that people can be efficient even when they have glasses and other persons with disabilities need other recommendations sometimes or not. And but they often are not certain that these accommodations or their different ways of doing something will be as accepted as glasses would be or using glasses would be.

Tegan: Invisible disabilities may be more common than you might expect. For example, in 2017, just over 4 million Canadians aged 15 years and older had a pain-related disability and over 2 million had a mental health-related disability. Tony told us a little more about the reality of living with an invisible disability.

Tony: It means that you can choose, it means that you can choose not to ever divulge it, and to live with that choice. And it means that you can choose to tell others and live with that choice as well. Think of someone with a diagnostic of anxiety and that person is evolving in the workplace and is having issues at certain point in time. And if he or she chooses not to say anything, that means that it may affect the person very much and even affect the colleagues very much without nobody knowing that there is a specific condition that could be considered and could be accommodated. So, it's true for any invisible disability. But think also if suddenly that person decides to divulge the fact that he or she has an anxiety problem. Well, suddenly, if it's accepted, again, it's a question of trust and acceptance. If it's accepted by the person, and the person doesn't feel she will be stigmatized or limited by that with the perception of others. If she feels that the workplace is conducive enough to discuss mental health issues, or any invisible disabilities, suddenly, an accommodations can be put in place, even the person can get coaching or the person can get some help in stressful moments, the person can even just be able to say that she's stressed and that will relieve some stress. Maybe the only accommodation that that person will need, to know that she can ask frequently to the boss if everything is going well. Instead of ruminating and having ideas in your mind so there's a choice there to say or not say something which is not the case with something visible. I mean, people will probably ask questions even about something visible if if we pretend it's not there.

Tegan: Then, it's much more complicated than a yes/no question. "Are you a person with a disability, yes or no?" It's not always that simple, is it?

Tony: Yeah, we have a social model to measure disability, like in our Canadian survey on disability done in 2017 and the one we will do in 2022, after the census, we will make use of a social model, where we don't look at the medical conditions of the people, we mostly look at the potential activity limitations and potential barriers that they face in the environment that they're in for their life or for work, and with scales also for light, moderate, and high impact of these things.

Tegan: And, and why is it especially important to acknowledge that hidden disability exists especially during the pandemic, both to acknowledge that it exists in other people we might interact with, but also, you know, within yourself, within ourselves.

Tony: This pandemic brought a lot of new opportunities and a lot of challenges too. There are some invisible things that now are activity limitations for people that may never perceive themselves as persons with disabilities, they will likely never tick that box on a questionnaire if you ask them "Are you a person with disability or not?" You think of someone with weak immune system, with someone, someone with pulmonary disease, someone with newly developed phobia of the public space, these people don't perceive themselves and may they perceive themselves as a person with disability and that's okay. But that they will likely need accommodations. In fact, all of us we need accommodations to work from home for example, the way many of us will do now, even if we are not with disabilities. An analyst would need two screens to work efficiently and it's not a disability. It's a question of productivity like it is for anybody with activity limitations. Analysis is more easily done with lots of space to actually conduct it.

Another important aspect is that the pandemic has taught us that it could be any one of us that would suddenly face an activity limitation. If you think of the people with weak immune system or with pulmonary disease or other conditions, suddenly, from one day to the next, because the context, they faced a situation that they had never envisioned. And that impacts on their ability to participate in a physical workplace or in society in general. It could be any of us that suddenly faced this, we could have a context or our own personal health could evolve. And it will have an impact on our ability to contribute, work or to participate in, in society and in the economy of Canada. And it becomes very important that we all build an inclusive world, an inclusive workplace, an inclusive economy and society so that we're not going to face an inability to contribute or to participate, even if the context would change, or even if our own health would change as we get older.

Michelle: So things like accessibility, flexibility, accommodations are definitely so important. So they give people with disabilities the ability to work, to engage in employment. And this is because they address the environmental barriers that can make disability limiting.

Tegan: That's Michelle Maroto.

Michelle: I'm Michelle Maroto and I'm an associate professor of sociology at the University of Alberta.

I tend to focus on things related to inequality or stratification, which is the more structural aspects of inequality. And then sometimes things come up in life, so COVID-19. There's a lot to study around that we see it in the news and I want to keep going and learn a little bit more about it.

Tegan: Michelle and her team used data from StatCan's Canadian Survey of Financial Security to compare nonhousing assets between households with and without disabilities.

Michelle: In this recent project we focused on non housing assets, so these are people's assets that aren't within their houses, so their savings accounts, their pensions and this can be really important for security because these are things that are easier to access when things go bad, so when you have financial hardship you can more easily withdraw money from your savings account to keep going than remortgage your house. And we used data from the survey of financial security over three waves. So from 1999 up until 2012, we looked at and we found that households where someone has a disability tend to own a lot less in terms of non housing assets. So we saw that they owned about 25% less than households that didn't have disabilities, and one of the things we also looked at was how this might be related to employment. So we know that one of the ways in which people can build their assets comes from their income, so if you're in better job so you can put money away, save it on a regular basis and that'll help your wealth. And we know that people with disabilities have less access to the labour market, so this is a situation where that definitely plays into things. But even after considering employment disparities, we still saw these gaps as well.

Tegan: A 25% difference sounds like a lot. Can you put that in perspective for our listeners? Is there a dollar difference between two average people, one with and one without disabilities, when controlling for factors like education, employment and family structure?

Michelle: Yes, so we looked at this as a percent difference 'cause we can see it very across that distribution. But at the middle it was about a $22,000 difference, which that's a big amount of money. If you're thinking about it in terms of wealth.

Tegan: Why is wealth disparity an important factor to consider in the context of a global pandemic?

Michelle: Well, so answering this question I think really comes down to capturing some of the differences between income and wealth more broadly. So what they are and what they do, and income generally refers to money that you have coming in, so it's that flow of resources and for most people we get most of our income from employment from our wages and our salaries. And a lot of research. This is also really common measure that we use when we think about inequality. It's something that's easy to access. We talk about it in surveys, we can access it in people's tax returns if we're looking at it. But wealth doesn't really tell the full story or income doesn't really tell the full story. That's why I also like to think about wealth as well. And wealth refers to everything you own minus everything you out, so your assets minus your debts, and that really makes it more of a stock measure that can build over time. So it presents certain benefits and a stability that income doesn't necessarily present to people, and it can include things like money in your bank account or the home you own, or having a retirement savings. And I think for most people this means stability. And when we got hit with a pandemic, this made these disparities really clear. So what do you rely on when your income disappears and one of the first things people look towards is their savings accounts if they have them. After that they look towards borrowing, so that might be through loans, but it's often through credit cards. But again, you need access to lending institutions. And then you might depend upon family and friends, but that also becomes pretty limited. So when that income disappears, when that flow of resources coming in, that's where wealth becomes really important. And that's why I think during the pandemic especially, we've seen these wealth disparities really put front and center again.

Tegan: The Canadian Survey on Disability found that 1.6 million Canadians with disabilities were unable to afford required aids, devices, or prescription medications due to cost. So, based on your findings, are many people facing a real conflict between wanting to work and wanting to keep themselves safe from the virus?

Michelle: Oh, absolutely yes. And I mean, this is especially true for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Since there are more risks already for developing complications with COVID-19. And a lot of our employed respondents were in jobs that allow them to transition to working from home. They're also in jobs that would give them options to take leave as well, but a lot of people didn't have these options, and this is particularly true for people in the retail industry in the service area industry. Where these jobs mean a lot of contact with lots of people on a regular basis. Which can make it really risky. Do you want to keep getting my paycheck or do I want to make sure I stay healthy and that's really tough for people to decide about.

Tegan: In terms of employment, there was a 21 percentage points difference between those with and without disabilities. 80% of those without disabilities were employed compared to 59% of those with disabilities. So could you explain to our listeners how someone who has remained in their job could still face financial insecurity?

Michelle: So we tend to think of work as this way out of poverty and the means of providing financial security and upward mobility for people. And these are all good things. But this isn't actually true for everyone. For a lot of people, having a job today doesn't mean you're going to have a job tomorrow or next month or next week. And when we looked within our sample, we saw that about half of employed respondents were concerned that they could lose their jobs in the next month, and 40% were concerned about losing them throughout the pandemic. So we saw a lot of concerns about job loss when people weren't sure that their jobs would still be there and generally work is precarious these days. And then especially so, during a pandemic, and even if you still have a job, a lot of jobs don't pay very well. They don't offer very good benefits, and people with disabilities tend to be over represented in these jobs and that's kind of where some of my earlier research focused on this over representation in certain jobs that aren't so great. So work doesn't necessarily mean security for people, unfortunately.

Tegan: Yeah, talk about. Yeah, talk about like stress and anxiety like yeah.

Michelle: Yes, exactly.

Tegan: A third of the employed respondents reported that their financial situation had worsened compared to the previous year. These were people who had not lost their jobs, and they still found themselves in a worse position after a year. StatCan's crowdsourcing survey conducted in the summer of 2020 showed that almost one-third of participants reported that their household income decreased since the start of the pandemic. Of these, over half reported difficulty in meeting their food and grocery needs. Can you talk a little bit about why more than a third of your employed respondents still found that their financial situation had worsened compared to the previous year?

Michelle: So the primary reason here is related to income losses. So a lot of people still had jobs, but they were working reduced hours and had reduced incomes. So those who had some savings to fall back on were doing better. But that was really a small percentage of respondents, and there were also respondents who discussed things like a loss of community supports and services that they had been able to access prior to the pandemic and something also faced increased cost. So if you're isolating at home, those delivery costs can add up and help might become harder to find as well.

Tegan: The threat of financial insecurity, the threat of losing your livelihood, that's stressful at any point, but when paired with the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic it's a recipe for a strain on mental health. Michelle, could we talk about mental health? What did you find in your research?

Michelle: Sure, yeah. So during the pandemic last summer we started a study where we wanted to see how people with disabilities and chronic health conditions were managing under COVID-19. We did a survey in June and then we followed up with a bunch of interviews with people to kind of expand upon that. And with our survey data we asked people about whether or not they had experienced some increases in anxiety, increases in stress or increases in despair. During the pandemic, and those are sort of some measures of mental health status. So we have a lot of different ways to measure mental health. This is kind of a quick and easy way to do that in a short survey with people, and then we looked at how these outcomes were related to certain factors. So one of the things we looked at was whether or not people who had COVID-19 affect their finances in a negative way saw these increases. So, for instance, we asked if COVID-19 had limited people's ability to pay debt or pay bills or purchase groceries. And for those who had said yes to this question, they were more likely to report that their anxiety had increased, their stress had increased, and their despair had increased, when we're comparing people who didn't have those negative financial effects, so we can kind of see those effects on finances. Also affected mental health, and we looked at some other things too, so we saw that people who reported being more concerned about contracting the virus also reported increases in anxiety and stress. And then we also saw this really strong relationship between changes in loneliness and belonging, and increases in stress and anxiety. So people who were feeling lonelier also had big increases in stress and anxiety. People who said that their feelings of belonging had decreased also had these big increases in stress and anxiety, so we can kind of see that isolation overlapping with those mental health effects as well.

Tegan: StatCan data seem to back that up. Information collected via a crowdsource questionnaire in June and July 2020 on the experiences of Canadians aged 15 and older with long-term conditions and disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that over half of participants reported their mental health is worse than it was prior to the start of the pandemic. This decline in mental health was also seen in the general population after the start of physical distancing. This may be related to feelings of isolation and being separated from normal social supports as a result of social distancing. Participants with long-term conditions or disabilities could be more impacted during the pandemic since many rely on formal and informal social supports and almost half receive help with daily activities.

Isolation is definitely something I think many of us are struggling with right now. Can confirm, personally. Michelle, could you talk about the effect of isolation on people with disabilities?

Michelle: In the case of people with disabilities, they have already experienced high levels of isolation. We have a lot of research that says they have smaller social networks. They have fewer friends, they have fewer social interactions. And this is partly due to aspects related to disability itself, so it can limit mobility, can limit social interactions, but I think it's also due to a lot of the negative stereotypes around disability as well as the barriers that limit participation in society. So, for instance, if you don't have access to employment, you don't have work friends, you don't have that type of social interaction and really the pandemic has made all this worse, so we've had to actually limit those social action social interactions to keep safe. And this has been a particularly important for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions because they are more likely to have complications with the virus, so they're likely taking extra measures in this case, which is increasing social isolation and limiting those interactions.

Tegan: Michelle wasn't the only one to bring up isolation. When I asked Tony about some of the challenges people with disabilities face during the pandemic, isolation was at the top of the list.

Tony: The first challenge that comes to my mind--and I'm surprised even myself--is feeling isolated. Some people with severe disabilities feel... still feel and felt isolated before the pandemic and feeling isolated, even in the crowds. Or sometimes at home, feeling different... if you don't accept yourself well, if you're not feel accepted by others and included by others, even if you get a job, if you're not fully included to achieve the objectives of the team and contribute to these results. That's probably the worst thing that they feel. They feel alone and isolated. Sometimes they they feel undervalued and that's not very good. As as society and as organizations, we need to make sure we don't leave any talent on the table. We need to make sure that we give the proper accommodations so that we can benefit from the potential the abilities of people with activity limitations. Another unique way that people with disabilities have been affected with the current situation we're facing is especially for the ones who need some help in their daily life. That people that suddenly would need that help would be having more difficulties to get it in the correct conditions, either through volunteers or through family members and so on, or through services and that certainly has become a challenge for many people with disabilities.

Tegan: Before the pandemic, almost half of those with a disability received help with daily activities because of their condition. Of those, 36% relied only on help from outside their household.

Michelle: So a lot of people have paid or unpaid help that they might live with that might be coming in, and that's been limited, so there's been less access to that which is made it harder to do those activities of daily living. But it's also increased isolation as well, so those things have been kind of building on each other.

Tegan: So, Michelle, I have to say that the thing that struck me most when I was reading your research is just how much the stressors pile on each other. Disability can limit your income while also meaning that you have additional expenses, plus other people in your home might have to take time away from their work to help out. In the pandemic, the average person with a disability is likely to work in a job where they have a higher chance of catching COVID-19, and then if they do, they're more likely to have complications, and it just seems like it never really ends. It's just one thing after the next.

Michelle: Yeah, and I think this applies to inequality more broadly going into the pandemic, so we know that a lot of people are better off than others. When we started out the pan-- that with the pandemic and what we've unfortunately seen is there's there's been a divergence, so people who came into the pandemic in good jobs with more money in their bank accounts, owning homes, they're doing OK, and people are still struggling in different ways. But in terms of finances, we see at the top of the distribution people doing OK that way. At the bottom of the distribution, it's been a very, very different story and as you mentioned, if we're thinking about this with disability, we're thinking about a group of people going into the pandemic with lower rates of employment. Many who were reliant on government benefits that aren't so great, that aren't necessarily giving people enough money to get by each month. Many people who are also relying on maybe outside help, but more often family caregivers who have to often sacrifice other employment and wages. To do that, caregiving to be involved that way. So again, this is something that is building and expanding inequality and as a society we have the ability to intervene in different ways, to deal with inequality, to make it a little bit smaller. Unfortunately we don't always do that so I think CERB was something that has been a great benefit and really helps people who had had employment beforehand. We see a lot of the data that people who at the very bottom of the income distribution who had lost employment didn't totally fall off, so they were able to get by. But this is also situation that points out that we can't just type benefits to employment when we do that, we see what happens. You lose employment and it goes away. We have to think about benefits more broadly and supporting people throughout our income distribution, and I think that's one of the things that this pandemic has made really apparent to me is, again, the urgency of thinking about our policy is on a broader level, thinking about how various groups, so people with disabilities, but other minority groups and other groups to experience very low levels of income, high levels of poverty, that we want to consider those in policy making. We want to consider OK, how can we actually go in and redistribute all the benefits that are coming through our society? How do we have a situation where they don't just get stuck at the very top, to the very small 1% of people up there? And I think those are things we really have to consider in different ways. I try to be hopeful. I try to think about this as a break in what has been going on. So crises can also offer opportunities so we can change how we do things. We can change how we're thinking about policy, how we're thinking about supporting people within our society. And perhaps seeing what has happened in this pandemic, putting inequality right front and center for so many people might just do that. So I'm going to try to be hopeful as we kind of still muddle through this next wave of the pandemic, but we'll see, it's hard to tell right now.

Tony: The pandemic has brought some opportunities, but also some challenges that there's some there's some things we need to discuss because they're not fully resolved. If you think of all the Plexiglas that's been put in the public space, they're a challenge for me. So I look forward for them to be removed, but I understand that they won't be removed before the sanitary measures are not needed.

Tegan: Could you talk more about that, the challenges? What do you mean when you say plexiglass is a challenge for you?

Tony: If you think of my own experience, as someone with low vision, I could still travel around the world and take a public bus or go to a store. And there are some barriers that have appeared since then, that I look forward, that they'll be removed once the sanitary guidelines are back to normal. For example, if I don't drive a car, which is a constraint that I have in my life, I will need to take public transport. So by taking public transport, I have more risk of catching the virus. And I don't do that. So even if I take public transport, there would be some plexiglass in some places, or there would be a place where I would need to tap the card at the grocery store, and there's still a plexiglass. So there's a more risk to hit my face on the Plexiglas and more risk of catching the virus even by being forced to type my pin in the terminal. Because I look closely to the terminal. And I touch with my fingers. Something socially accepted that at the grocery store, I could just take a box of something and look closely at the box to read what's on it. It's not accepted anymore, easily in society, I feel that it's something that I should not do, given that what I would not like others to do with the food that I bring home. So until that time, when we're back to normal, some people with disabilities are facing more barriers, while some other people are experiencing new freedom, because they can get everything delivered to their home, they can work from home. They can speak with videoconferencing with others and becomes the way to socialize. It's open ways for them to see museum concerts and other things. And so there's some things all these good things we need to keep and all these barriers that we can remove. We need to remove when once it's time to remove them.

Tegan: The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability reported that among employees with a disabilitiy aged 25 to 64 years, more than 1 in 3 needed at least one accommodation to be able to work. This represents just over 772,000 Canadians. The most common accommodations were flexible work arrangements, like working from home.

Perhaps the most obvious change in working conditions is the sudden accommodation many workers have received to work from home. Could you discuss some of the reactions, good or bad, that your respondents reported regarding the new arrangement, be it working from home or any other sort of new work situation?

Michelle: Well, working from home was definitely the most common work change that people talked about. More than half of our employed respondents transition to a full or partial work from home arrangement, and that change is definitely disruptive for people. But it's not all bad, right? Keeps you protected from being exposed to the virus and it allows people to actually keep working and keep having an income from a safer situation. And what's interesting here is this is actually an accommodation that people with disabilities have been asking about and pushing for a long period of time which a lot of workplaces weren't flexible about, so there's been some positive aspects related to this change from work from home and having this flexibility. Although there is still all that type of isolation that comes with it as well.

Workplace accommodations are a common accessibility request and have been for a long time. With the pandemic, many workplaces rushed to make it possible for all their employees to work from home. As of May 2020, 14% of businesses reported that 100% of their employees were teleworking or working from home. We spoke to Tony about all the unique opportunities and challenges brought on by telework.

Tony: As a manager, I find that there again, has been many opportunities that have arisen with this situation. I mean, we have some people that used to commute a long way from the office, they're saving that time, some of them even use part of the time to work more. Not that I want them to work too much. They're certainly more in good shape, they're less tired. If you haven't commuted for an hour and a half in the morning, an hour and a half, that is a benefit for everyone. It's more important for a person with a mobility issue, for example, that doesn't have to go on ice after freezing rain. But I think it's important for everyone in fact it's useful for the environment as well. So there's a benefit right there. There's some benefits for making sure that we can better share information among each other more fluidly. But there are some social aspects that we miss, I think we all miss some human connections, and we look forward to have at least an hybrid mode, where we will hopefully keep those benefits for accommodations at home and have access, again, to a common workplace for part of our time. And for certain specific activities, I can tell you that for strategic planning, or for some difficult discussions that we can we can need or even for reconciling data series. And I may be old, but I think it's much better in in person. Much more efficient. And we need to, to get back to this while keeping some of the benefits. Like I'm not walking up with an alarm clock for the majority of the mornings, except for when I have a meeting at 8 o'clock. And for me, that's a gift of life. I'm having lunch with my wife every day. And I've seen her more than ever in the last year. So that for me that there are several benefits for everyone. And obviously, there's benefits are there for people with activity limitation, they're actually more appreciated, probably by some people with activity limitations.

Tegan: If you think about it, even this interview is an accommodation. I was in my home, and he was in his, and yet here we are.

Tony: I feel I feel fascinated that only one year after social distancing and remote work and everything we can do this. I mean, I felt this... it illustrates how we can adapt with the right accommodation. We can bloom. It's actually an illustration of how we all were disabled immediately after the pandemic because of our systems, because of our environment, because of our culture. And now we suddenly--we're able to rally together and become a much more able organization that will be much more agile in the future.

Tegan: When we talk about accessibility or accommodation, we often think that it mostly benefits people with disabilities. But could you talk about how workplace accommodation benefits workers as a whole? I know this wasn't your particular place of study, but I think you probably would have something interesting to say about it.

Michelle: For sure, so things like accessibility, flexibility, accommodations are definitely so important. So they give people with disabilities the ability to work to engage in employment. And this is because they address the environmental barriers that can make disability limiting. So disability can bring certain physical and health limitations for people, but these limitations really only become barriers because of the ableist world we live in, where we organize work, we organize education in a way that focuses on certain assumptions about how people function, how peoples bodies work. So giving accommodations and allowing this more flexibility has been really important for bringing people with disabilities who want to work, who want to be part of employment into the workplace. And we can also think about this on a broader scale as well. So accessibility, flexibility, accommodations, they're important beyond disability. So these are things that give workers more autonomy in regard to when and how they work. They really acknowledge that this type of one size fits all approach to work hours and work situations, that doesn't work for everyone. We could be better workers. We can be more productive if we have this type of flexibility in work arrangements in terms of when and how we work, and this makes it good for employers. It's good for workers. It can reduce stress. It can make work easier and easier overall, but it can also increase productivity as well… So, there are these norms about work and these expectations of where we should work in, how we should be working that's still really influence things. This is where I think, though maybe this big change with this pandemic where we spent a year for many people working from home might change that, might give more accessibility, more flexibility for workers, which is good for everyone. But it's especially good for people with disabilities too.

Tegan: Focusing on accessibility instead of disability also means focusing on what individuals can do or could do if obstacles were removed. It helps people recognize a barrier as a source of disability. Thinking in terms of accessibility helps to broaden what it means to live with a disability.

Michelle: I think part of the problem is that we often think about disability as just being limiting. So it's related to an individual and that's why they can't get a job. But when we start to think about it a lot more, there's actually these big barriers that really matter. So if we think about the area of employment, there was a lot of discrimination that occurs in relation to disability. There's a lot of assumptions that we make about people with disabilities that simply aren't true.

Tegan: So how does using the term barrier rather than disability help people to better understand that accessibility benefits everyone?

Tony: That's a really good question. The barrier is often something that is not attached to the person itself. It's attached to the environment. And it's something we can change, we can reflect on how to make sure that it's removed. And once it's removed, the person can do, and you see more the ability than the disability. The disability is often caused by the barrier. Let's take my own example. I see in a way that makes me appreciate scenery or art or I take pictures and I see colors, I enjoy what I see, but I see much less than most human beings. And if all human beings would see like me, the environment would be different. Signs would be bigger, labels would be bigger, or we would have found accommodations for everyone so that we can all see equally and contribute equally. But sometimes I have a hard time seeing something, something I receive a document that is in PDF and it's not accessible. Well, if everybody would use the same color scheme that I do or the same elements of my, my workstation, we would all be working in the same way. And there are ways to make sure that this, these barriers don't exist, they're often simple. They're just not known because they're not needed by the majority. So, when you talk about the barrier, instead of disability, we can all work on it, we can all make sure it disappears and that someone like me can do my job as a director, I can fulfill my role as a father or I can even repair some things around the house because I found my own ways to do these things and we can all find our own ways, with the help of others sometimes or with our own perseverance other times and to contribute and lead a full life.

Tegan: how can broadening the definition of disability help more people accept that disability is everywhere and shouldn't be a taboo subject.

Tony: The more we open this definition but also the discussion, the more we are inclusive. I think the more that the level of knowledge will increase in society and hopefully the level of trust in the abilities. Because it's not about the disabilities it's about abilities that we need to look for.

Tegan: The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the many ways that we can make the world more accessible, especially with remote work and other accommodations. But what will the post-pandemic world look like?

Tony: Well, hopefully, there will be people that will be, they will see that there's more openness, I've seen more openness in organization for sure. I've seen more needs in society as well. So more more openness and organization to provide accommodations to a larger number of people. We have added a number of employees that requested virtual ergonomic assessments or other accommodations, so that they would not self identify as a person with disability, but they certainly raise their hand saying that they needed accommodation, which I think is great. Because they will stay healthy and productive in the long run, you might end up avoiding more activity limitations, that's, that's fairly important. And I think we are speaking more in our workplace and in society about the needs of persons with disabilities, we have a lot of persons with disabilities that have low income, a lot of persons with disabilities that and suddenly more service than ever, from home, they can they are allowed to work from home or allowed to, they can easily order something and it will be delivered at their doorstep. I mean, that's opened a bunch of opportunities, but there's a lot of challenges also in our public space that some barriers have been raised. So the pandemic is an interesting situation and yeah, I hope people will be will self declare more and will express their needs more. And given the context we're in and given the fact that many including people with disabilities, traditionally asking for things but including also others that have never considered that they would need to discuss their their limitations. There are some certainly that there's more of that the public space for the for discussing these things openly. So I hope it stays I hope it's one thing that was will stay after that initial episodes that we've lived through in the recent year.

Tegan: You've been listening to Eh Sayers. A special thank you, big thank you, to our guests, Tony Labillois and Michelle Maroto.

You can learn more about Michelle's work by visiting her website or the website of the University of Alberta. The links are in the shownotes. You can also follow her on Twitter. Her handle is @MarotoMichelle.

The voices you heard at the top of the show were excerpts of stories from people with disabilities about their experiences during the pandemic. Thank you to all those who sent us their voices, and thank you to the Abilities Centre for their help in gathering them. You can subscribe to this show wherever you get your podcasts. There you can also find the French version of our show, called Hé-coutez bien! Thanks for listening! See you next time.