Post-Secondary Education is Freedom

[Image description: Table 8 of the Canadian Survey on Disability: Employment of Canadian population aged 25 to 64 years, by education attainment, disability status, severity and sex, 2016.

Employment of women without disabilities and a high school diploma or less: 65.8%. Employment of men without disabilities and a high school diploma or less: 79.2%. Employment of women with mild disabilities and a high school diploma or less: 54.4%. Employment of men with mild disabilities and a high school diploma or less: 67%. Employment of women with more severe disabilities and a high school diploma or less: 28.8%. Employment of men with more severe disabilities and a high school diploma or less: 32.3%.

Employment of women without disabilities and a college or technical/trade school certification: 80.3%. Employment of men without disabilities and a college or technical/trade school certification: 86.2%. Employment of women with mild disabilities and a college or technical/trade school certification: 79%. Employment of men with mild disabilities and a college or technical/trade school certification: 79.5%. Employment of women with more severe disabilities and a college or technical/trade school certification: 47.7%. Employment of men with more severe disabilities and a college or technical/trade school certification: 49%.

Employment of women without disabilities and a university degree: 81.6%. Employment of men without disabilities and a university degree: 86.7%. Employment of women with mild disabilities and a university degree: 79.1%. Employment of men with mild disabilities and a university degree: 83.9%. Employment of women with more severe disabilities and a university degree: 58.2%. Employment of men with more severe disabilities and a university degree: 50%.

Federal statistics are clear. The strongest correlated factor of the gap between disabled and non-disabled unemployment in Canada, whether physical or mental disability, is a post-secondary education. Statistics Canada has reported survey after survey that a post-secondary education is a correlation to freedom from poverty, freedom from violence, and freedom from physical and mental illness. For Canadians with disabilities, post-secondary education is an actionable factor that improves all of these outcomes of health and good life.

A person with “severe” disabilities is multiple times more able to access employment if they have a post-secondary education. The employment gap between people without disabilities, and people with “mild” disabilities, who have a post-secondary education, is neglegible; the gap is significant for those without advanced education.

And according to the 2016 Canadian Survey on Disability, it does not matter if that education comes from a trade school, a community college, or the University of Toronto. Learning is learning. With the exception of women with “severe” disabilities, who strongly benefit from a university degree over a trade certificate, the gaps between workers without disabilities and workers with disabilities are all equally mitigated by a post-secondary certification no matter what level of education that may come from.

With this knowledge, now we must turn our research to the barriers faced by people with disabilities in accessing school acceptance and seeing their programs through to the end. We must build solutions that accommodate these barriers and, create post-secondary school environments where these barriers do not exist.

BIPOC Trans, Non-Binary, Intersex, and Queer Autistic Leaders

Image Description: The LGBTQ+ Pride Flag, with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple horizontal stripes from top to bottom, and white, pink, light blue, brown, and black V-stripes on the left side.

I wish everybody a safe and healthy LGBTQ+ pride month, and for us all to take our time to acknowledge one of the many ways in which autism acceptance ties in with LGBTQ+ liberation.

One of the number of disability acceptance movements of the last 40 years, which continues to coalesce into a modern understanding of autism acceptance, is the disability justice movement. The disability justice movement was dreamed of in the mid-2000s and propelled by Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour with disabilities, who were trans, non-binary, intersex, and queer, and many of which were non-speaking. These leaders included people such as Mia Mingus, Stacey Milbern, and Patty Berne, who founded disability arts collectives in California and used art to communicate their vision of a world inclusive of disabled people.

The disability justice movement is rooted in the radical idea that all lives are worth living; that all people have equal value as human beings, that disability is not a dirty word, that disabled people have a distinct history and culture, and that all disabled people are entitled to equal inclusion and quality of life as able-bodied and able-minded people.

Disability creates challenges to living in a world created by and for non-disabled people, absolutely. My autism imposes challenges on me. But that’s not because I am broken or unfit, and I don’t want pity. I may not be able to articulate myself verbally, but I can articulate myself through art and writing. I may not be able to socialize like most people, but that gives me more time to study history and my other special interests, which gives me happiness and fulfillment. I stim, and this makes people uncomfortable, but I am not responsible for managing other peoples’ reactions to me. That’s their work to do. It’s not my job to change who I am to make other people comfortable.

These hard-won realizations I have made about myself and the autistic experience are wholly due to social justice visionaries who are Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, trans, non-binary, intersex, and queer. I owe my growth as an autistic person, and an advocate, to intersex M├ętis autistic Amethyst Schaber and their Ask an Autistic series on YouTube. I owe it to queer Canadian disability justice advocates like Alex Echakowicz and Vivian Ly who are working to bring the models of disability justice to Canada. I owe it queer non-binary autistic self-advocates from around the world, like Yenn Purkis, Noor Pervez, and our recently departed Mel Baggs, who was a visionary queer, non-binary, non-speaking autistic.

For LGBTQ+ Pride Month, I am recommending that we all learn more about disability justice and how the brilliant wisdom of Black, Indigenous, and POC LGBTQ+ leaders, must be what drives our work towards a better world for autistic and neurodivergent people.