11 Institutions and Disability

Julia Townsend

Social institutions are designed to serve the broad needs of society, but certain individuals benefit more than others. Institutions including the government, healthcare, and education often neglecting the needs of minoritized groups. Using an intersectional lens, we can understand how systems of privilege and oppression function in society to affect the life chances of individuals and groups.

People with disabilities encounter challenges in a society that favours able-bodied and neurotypical ideals. For a country that institutionalized its citizens with cognitive and developmental disabilities until 2009,[1] it is no surprise that systemic ableism, or oppression against people with disabilities, remains prevalent. Physical, environmental, and communication barriers prevent people with disabilities from accessing services, while pre-existing attitudes hinder support and prosperity. For instance, people with disabilities are less likely to pursue post-secondary education than able-bodied people, and lack of accessibility and understanding can render an exclusive, dangerous environment for students. When disability is accompanied by marginalization along lines of race, gender, or class, people face compounding barriers in navigating social institutions. For example, Black and Indigenous women with disabilities utilize institutions with multiple interconnecting identities. Because of this, they can be discriminated against on the basis of their race, gender, and ability at the same time.

Ableism: individual or institutional discrimination against people with disabilities
Disability: any condition that hinders an individual’s ability to fully and equally participate in society
Able-bodied: a way to describe people who are not limited by physical impairments
Neurotypical: a way to describe people whose cognition, intellect, or behaviour is considered “normal”
Neuro-divergent: a way to describe people who differ from what is considered “normal” neurological, intellectual, or mental functioning

  1. See Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives  https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/freeing-our-people-updates-long-road-deinstitutionalization


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Gender in Canada: A Companion Workbook Copyright © 2023 by Julia Townsend is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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