3 Facts for Indigenous Disability Awareness Month

In 2015, British Columbia—along with the Metis Nation British Columbia and BC First Nations Summit—dedicated the month of November to Indigenous people with disabilities.

Since then, the Assembly of First Nations, the Council of Yukon First Nations, and the province of Saskatchewan have all followed suit. From a healthcare perspective, this declaration is significant.

Indigenous people in Canada face unique obstacles when it comes to receiving adequate care. For those living with disabilities, navigating the system can be especially complex. Recognizing existing challenges is the first step toward finding solutions.

The organizations above are dedicated to positive change. They remind us to take stock of how our healthcare systems are serving Indigenous people with disabilities—and how they can improve. Here are a few things we should all consider this November.

1) Indigenous people in Canada are more likely to have a disability

European contact and ongoing systemic issues have far-reaching impacts on Indigenous populations. Education, housing, and income levels are all effected—and they’re major contributors to existing disparities in health status.

Many chronic diseases, like diabetes, are more prevalent among people of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit descent. But there’s less awareness around the prevalence of diabetes.

According to the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Diabetes Society (BCANDS), the Indigenous population of Canada has a disability rate that’s twice that of the general population.

Healthcare policymakers should carefully consider this alarming figure.

 2) Disabled Indigenous people face unique obstacles in the health care system

Historical injustice continues to impact the lives of Indigenous people across Canada. But it’s not just the past that’s an issue.

Canada’s first female First Nations general surgeon, Nadine Caron, has been speaking out against racism in the healthcare system. Caron says that she’s not only experienced systemic discrimination, but heard accounts of it from patients.

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of societal stigma associated with disabilities. It would be naïve to think that these prejudices don’t exist within our healthcare system.

As a result, Indigenous people living with disabilities often face two major, interrelated sets of obstacles.

Moving forward, healthcare practitioners should work on truly understanding cultural safety—and what it means to receive medical care as a person with a disability.

3) Disabled Indigenous women need to part of the conversation

The Feminist Northern Network has been looking at gender and disability in Canada’s North.

One major finding is that little is known about the lives of women with disabilities in the North. Another is that there’s no common understanding of disability in Northern communities.

Regardless of environment, one thing we do know is that 26% of women living in poverty have a disability, and 36% of Indigenous women live in poverty. These issues are often connected in complex ways, and how they play out in the healthcare system can have a serious impact on quality of care.

Looking at this information, it’s clear that policymakers should be devoting a good deal of focus to the experiences of Indigenous women living with disabilities. Listening to their voices will help leaders create a better, more inclusive healthcare system.

Featured image courtesy of We Clipart

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