This month our theme is Intersectionality. Intersectionality is an analytical tool that addresses the interconnectedness of each individuals social categorizations and the ways in which they create barriers and disadvantages. A single aspect of identity such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability and many other factors can result in oppression and discrimination against an individual. Yet, within these larger categorizations such as race, gender, and sexual orientation, there are individuals that are further marginalized by joint membership in several categories. For example, a woman who is both indigenous and has a disability, there are three pieces of her identity that intersect, increasing the likelihood of discrimination.

Simply the intersection of two categories, such as being a female with a disability, has a significant impact on an individual. Dawn Canada, an agency advocating for women with disabilities, has published the following statistics based on the 1991 Health and Activity Limitation Survey (HALS):

• At least 53% of all people with disabilities in Canada are women;

• The unemployment rate among women with disabilities is up to 75%;

• 58% of women with disabilities live on less than $10,000 per year. Of those, 23% live on less than $5,000 per year;

• Accessible cribs, accessible and affordable childcare and other services for mothers with disabilities are virtually non-existent;

• A drunken and/or abusive father is often considered a better parent than a mother who has a disability;

• Women and children with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of violence than non-disabled women, women and children with multiple disabilities experience even higher rates of violence;

• Across Canada, few rape crisis centres and transition houses are accessible to women with all kinds of disabilities

When barriers intersect, they become more than the sum of their parts. The following video explains how an individual, marginalized in several ways, may still fall through the cracks when only one barrier is addressed.

“Intersectionality means listening to others, examining our privileges, and asking questions about who may excluded or adversely affected by our work. As importantly, it means taking measurable action to invite, include, and centre the voices and work of marginalized individuals”.

CAES provides employment services for adults who identify as having a disability.  However, the identities of those we support are much more complex. For many, it is not simply their disability that is a barrier to employment, it can also be their gender, age, race, and level of education that are further barriers. It is extremely important for us as service providers as well as employers working to be inclusive, to consider how each individual’s experience of discrimination is complex and layered, and ensuring that no one is left in the margins. Even as a service a service dedicated to inclusion, we often find ourselves in the position of excluding many people in need of our support that just don’t quite meet the “criteria” to secure the funding. While working to break down barriers for one narrowly defined group, we cast many back to the fringes. There is much work to be done to build truly inclusive communities, and the first step is examining the part we play in leaving people in the margins and actively taking steps to invite them in.