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Persons with Disabilities Resources: Getting the Conversation Started

This guide is an introduction to concepts and a gateway to resources around disability information, supports, legislation and rights. It was developed in consultation with members of the disability community and NSCC staff who work closely with them.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, also called the International Day of People with Disabilities by some organizations, was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1992. Held on December 3, it aims to " promote the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities and to take action for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society and development." (UN, 2020). Each year has a different theme. This year's is Building Back Better: Toward a Disability-inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable Post COVID-19 World.


disability history Canada word cloudDuring the 19th century advances and trust in medicine, combined with the industrial revolution, an environment was created that would lead to the segregation of people with disabilities in Canada. Along with the establishment of various government institutions at this time it fostered "the establishment of residential institutions, including psychiatric hospitals, schools for the blind, Houses of Refuge and church-run homes, which collectively housed large numbers of people with mental health issues, intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities". (Galer, 2015)

As we now know, segregation and institutionalization of any population marginalizes and disenfranchises them.

It wasn't until the end of World War I when so many veterans returned home with disabilities that circumstances slowly started to change. Organizations like the War Amps, advocating for disabled veterans, were founded.

It wouldn't be until after World War II allying with the veterans disability movement and associated organizations, as well as the rising civil rights movement, that change for other disability groups started to gain momentum.

disability rights demonstration parliament hillMilestones in the Disability Rights Movement (this list isn't intended to be exhaustive):

The 1980's recession proved a set-back as governments cut back on many initiatives. This time period also saw the rise of disability studies in universities and colleges.

Disability rights demonstration, Ottawa


Galer, D. (2015). Disability rights movement in Canada. In The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Milestones in human rights in Nova Scotia.



This is not an exhaustive list. It is intended to provide an introduction to terminology prevalent in disability studies.


Barrier - Anything that hinders or challenges the full and effective participation in society. Barriers can be physical, attitudinal, technological, or systemic (policy or practice). Accessibility barriers may be related to areas such as employment, education, the built environment, transportation, the delivery and receipt of goods and services, or information and communications.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy - teaching that recognizes all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity.

Equity - Fair treatment of individuals by acknowledging and making provisions for their differences by ensuring that employment and educational processes are free from systemic barriers. Equity does not mean ignoring differences and treating everyone the same. Instead, it means recognizing and valuing differences, removing systemic barriers and accommodating individual differences, as needed.

First Voice - First voice perspectives generally refer to the knowledge generated by persons with disabilities and others who experience barriers to accessibility that emerges from lived experience, community connections, knowledge traditions, and scholarly activities that are typically under-valued and under-represented.

Meaningful Access - anticipates the needs of citizens of all ages, life stages, and abilities and enables personal independence, intergenerational living and human diversity.

Neurodivergent - means having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal”. It recognizes diverse neurologies and ways of being, as variation of human experience, rather than deficiency in need of remediation or cure. It includes those who identify with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, and dyslexia, to name a few.

Universal Design - is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples' needs. Simply put, universal design is good design. (Irish Centre for Excellence in Universal Design)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) - is an educational framework that guides the design of learning goals, assessments, methods and materials, as well as the policies surrounding these curricular elements, with the diversity of learners in mind.  NSCC incorporates UDL principles into curriculum design. You can find more information on UDL in the Designing Learning guide.


CAST. (2016). UDL on campus.

NSCC. (2019). Educational Equity Policy.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013, November). Capacity Building Series, Secretariat Special Edition, (35):1.

Scorgie, K. & Forlin, C. (2019). Promoting Social Inclusion: Co-Creating Environments that Foster Equity and Belonging. p. 153.

Woodward, S. (2017, November 27). How can we move towards meaningful access for all? Rick Hansen Foundation.


eBook - Studying Disability

Presenting a fully integrative text covering disability from a variety of disciplines, this innovative book first reviews existing theories, then sets forth a new viewpoint that incorporates elements from disability studies, sociology, human services, rehabilitation counseling, and public health. It also explores the history of disability in both Western and non-Western cultures, and explores a wide range of both classic and new and emerging theories and the application of theory to practice and policy in the professional and public realm.

eBook - Nothing about Us Without Us

James Charlton has produced a ringing indictment of disability oppression, which, he says, is rooted in degradation, dependency, and powerlessness and is experienced in some form by five hundred million persons throughout the world who have physical, sensory, cognitive, or developmental disabilities. Nothing About Us Without Us is the first book in the literature on disability to provide a theoretical overview of disability oppression that shows its similarities to, and differences from, racism, sexism, and colonialism.

ebook - Sex and Disability

eBook - The title of this collection of essays, Sex and Disability, unites two terms that the popular imagination often regards as incongruous. The major texts in sexuality studies, including queer theory, rarely mention disability, and foundational texts in disability studies do not discuss sex in much detail. What if "sex" and "disability" were understood as intimately related concepts? And what if disabled people were seen as both subjects and objects of a range of erotic desires and practices? These are among the questions that this collection's contributors engage. 

eBook - Tackling Disability Discrimination and Disability Hate Crime

Placing the experiences of victims at its heart, this book provides an authoritative overview of disability hate crime - explaining what it is, how it happens, its legal status, the impact on victims and how individuals and agencies should respond. 

eBook - Barriers and Belonging

What is the direct impact that disability studies has on the lives of disabled people today? The editors and contributors to this essential anthology, Barriers and Belonging, provide thirty-seven personal narratives that explore what it means to be disabled and why the field of disability studies matters.  

eBook - Disability histories

In this collection, Susan Burch and Michael Rembis present essays that integrate critical analysis of gender, race, historical context, and other factors to enrich and challenge the traditional modes of interpretation still dominating the field. Contributors delve into four critical areas of study within disability history: family, community, and daily life; cultural histories; the relationship between disabled people and the medical field; and issues of citizenship, belonging, and normalcy.

eBook - Inclusion, Disability and Culture

This book examines some theoretical and empirical aspects about complexities of inclusion, disability and culture. It challenges the globalized technical and reductionist approach of inclusion and argues that concepts of disability and inclusion are culturally constructed. Disability and inclusion are concepts which do not define a global agenda, in the sense that one size fits all.

eBook - The Power of Disability

This book reveals that people with disabilities are the invisible force that has shaped history. They have been instrumental in the growth of freedom and birth of democracy. They have produced heavenly music and exquisite works of art. They have unveiled the scientific secrets of the universe. They are among our most popular comedians, poets, and storytellers. And at 1.2 billion, they are also the largest minority group in the world. Al Etmanski offers ten lessons we can all learn from people with disabilities, illustrated with short, funny, inspiring, and thought-provoking stories of one hundred individuals from twenty countries.

Off-Campus Access

In order to support NSCC students, staff and faculty teaching and learning from home, the majority of the resources listed here are electronic. These include e-books, articles, videos and websites. You can use NSCC Libraries' e-resources off-site by logging in with your w# and password (the same login information you use for your NSCC email). Please see the eBook Guide for help viewing and borrowing eBooks.

Do you have feedback?

If you would like to submit comments about this guide or recommendations for resources to be added, please email