Disability Leadership


The above photo, left to right, Bruce Bonyhady, Chair, Australian National Disability Insurance Agency, Andria Spindel, President and CEO, March of Dimes Canada, Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Canada – Sydney, March 2, 2017

Disability Leadership is many things, including personal empowerment for individuals who have a disability, sector innovation by service providers who keep abreast of or ahead of new ideas and challenges, and community or cohort leadership which engages a group of people with and without disabilities to help build greater capacity of those with lived experience and a society that values everyone and is inclusive of people who have a disability. So, I have been reflecting on how well March of Dimes, our team and I do in building “disability leadership” in all its manifestations.

During the week of February 27th  to March 4th, I had a unique opportunity to participate in the International Initiative on Disability Leadership (IIDL) in Sydney, Australia, and to see how people with lived experience took the initiative to build a national campaign for a nationally funded and delivered disability insurance scheme. I also heard from disability policy leaders in government, the NGO sector and the disability advocacy movement, about their various roles and relationships. It very much reminded me of the many ways in which March of Dimes Canada has contributed over many decades to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities in Canada.

From the earliest years in which we employed the highest proportion of people with lived experience, when at least one third of our board of directors were people with lived experience, we have continuously innovated to deliver new or improved services, and to have input from those with lived experience. I was reminded that March of Dimes was instrumental in getting people with disabilities included as a class or category for which human rights are guaranteed in our provincial and federal Human Rights Acts, also in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. March of Dimes was providing leadership training to people with lived experience when in 1981 we received a federal grant to go into schools across Ontario and talk about disability/ability and accessibility, and we hired 15 people to deliver this program. We reached over 600,000 students in 3 years. We funded and supported many self- help organizations, enabling them to build their capacity, to represent people with disabilities.

March of Dimes invests hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in staff development, helping to build a professional team dedicated to and leading in the delivery of quality community support services, always encouraging forward thinking, as well as creative and challenging developments for providing a quality of life to those who have a disability. Our cohort leaders include the many peer support chapters, the engineers and designers in DesignAbility chapters, the March of Dimes Canada Committee volunteers, the partners in collaboratives that we support that give rise to new programs.

I think history will tell that March of Dimes made a huge impact in disability leadership, and will continue to do so. I invite staff, consumers, volunteers, and other readers to comment.