6 December 2017

Reaching beyond Academia to Influence Policy

March of Dimes Canada, a community-based rehabilitation and advocacy charity for people with disabilities and a United Nations ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organization (NGO), highlights in this article the advantages of partnerships between academics and NGOs to promote research and evidence uptake especially in the disability field.

6 December 2017 - In honour of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, celebrated on 3 December 2017, March of Dimes Canada recently co-hosted an awareness event on access to assistive devices for people with disabilities. As can be seen in the joint World Health Organization/World Bank World Report on Disability 2011, this issue has been gaining worldwide recognition. Indeed, older people as well as people with disabilities of all ages can benefit from how assistive technology enables independence. The event, which was held at the Ontario Legislative Building, or Queen’s Park, on 29 November 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, highlighted the results of a collaborative research project conducted by the University of Toronto, McMaster Health Forum and March of Dimes Canada.

The research project illustrates the importance of cooperative efforts in favour of evidence-based decision-making and advocacy. International Day of Persons with Disabilities aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society and development. March of Dimes Canada is a community-based rehabilitation and advocacy charity for people with physical disabilities. 

With funds from the Canadian National Centre of Excellence, AGE-WELL, and under the leadership of Dr. Michael Wilson (Assistant Professor, McMaster Health Forum) and Dr. Rosalie Wang (Assistant Professor, University of Toronto), a jurisdictional scan was conducted to examine ethical concerns (e.g. equity of distribution) in the availability of technology and services across Canada. Preliminary findings shared at the Queen’s Park celebration, which was co-hosted by Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, indicated the following:

  • There are numerous programs providing assistive technology funding and services in Canada, and these programs are a patchwork, overlapping and complex.
  • There is a lack of federal legislation pledging universal access to assistive technologies, despite this being stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, of which Canada has been a signatory since 2010.
  • Access is inequitable across Canada due to different funding and service-delivery mechanisms among federal, provincial and territorial government programs, as well contributions from the charitable and private sectors.

As evidence-based decision-making increasingly informs policymakers, it is essential that academics and NGOs collaborate in order to help strengthen advocacy efforts. In turn, NGOs often have significant networks of on-the-ground practitioners and persons with lived experience who can provide significant input to research in support of evidence-based policies and practice. By working together, academics, NGOs, policymakers and persons with lived experience can help ensure that our communities are sustainably inclusive of people with differing levels of ability.