Most Recent
By Topic
Guest Posts

You Can Learn a Lot by Paying Attention to the World of Disability 

It is no surprise innovations abound in the world of disability. They comprise the largest minority group in the world, 1.2 Billion. When you factor in parents, siblings, other relatives as well as friends and caring professionals the minority tilts in favour of a small majority. Having spent the past 15 years in the field of social innovation I’m convinced it has a lot to learn from the world of disability.

Here are 10 examples:

1. Nothing About Us Without Us

A rallying cry for those without power to assert theirs. Not just in the face of the mighty who determine laws and control purse strings but also from those who benignly decide what is in other people’s best interests.

2. Philosophy of Normalization

Make sure the cultural values associated with the means and methods you use are not undermining your objectives to achieve justice and impact.

3. A Good Life

The goal, nothing short of a good, full and meaningful life for everyone. Professional services, targeted interventions, technologies and techniques should respect and supplement a good life not supplant it.

4. Local Area Coordination

Communities and neighbourhoods are abundant with talented people and local resources. It is better to mobilize those assets before seeking help from outsiders (funders or professionals.) Otherwise community resilience is eroded.

5. Individualized Funding/ Direct Payments

If programs and services are necessary then provide the dollars directly to the individual or family. Trust them to decide what to spend the money on. Otherwise you reinforce client-hood instead of nurturing citizenship.

6. Label Jars Not People

Tossing around labels and categories like the poor, homeless, refugee, disabled, Indigenous, climate denier and uneducated negates the unique and complex makeup and background of every human being.

7. Power in Vulnerability

Denying our vulnerability makes us more fragile. Accepting our limitations and interdependency is critical to our salvation personally and environmentally. Acceptance is not resignation but enhanced awareness and consciousness about the way the world is.  

8. Diversity is Life

If you take diversity out of the equation things die. Specialization reduces resilience. The quest for perfection of nature and humans is a Faustian bargain, (Ex’s genetic manipulation of seeds, gene editing of humans, transhumanism, singularity, fish farms, neuromorphic engineering.)

9. The Yearning to Belong is Universal

Becoming human is about belonging, interdependence, reciprocity, caring and our obligations to each other. The cry of the heart is universal whether from exclusion, rejection, humiliation, being lost or searching for meaning and purpose.

10. Movements Merge Over Time

Staring with families post world 2 uniting to challenge attitudes that led to segregation and exclusion; leading to the first UN Charter ever – Human Right of People with Intellectual Disabilities; diverging to birth the independent living movement; and accumulating in the movement for inclusion where “all means all.” Trickles become streams become tributaries become mighty rivers.


There are plenty more where these came from. The impact-ability within the disability world is a force powered by toughness, discipline, focus, wisdom and love. It’s a force worth paying attention to.


This blog is re-printed with permission from Al Etmanski's blog page.

Al has been a proud member of the disability movement since the birth of his daughter Liz. He is a community organizer, social entrepreneur and author. He is a founding partner of Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and BC Partners for Social Impact. As co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) he proposed and led the campaign to establish the world's only disability savings plan - the RDSP. Al is an Ashoka fellow, and a faculty member of John McKnight’s Asset Based Community Development Institute (ABCD). He was recently awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.  

sign up for P4P eNewsletter
connect with us