Social Development

May 30, 2023

Experiences with Disabilities and Autism for Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit, Transgender, and Gender-Diverse+ (WG2STGD+) Peoples

With funding from Employment and Social Development Canada, NWAC completed two projects advocating and increasing understanding for the many issues and systemic barriers faced by Indigenous WG2STGD+ Peoples living with disabilities. We conducted extensive research and held a series of Sharing Circles, where participants shared their lived experiences and talked about their barriers and challenges. The outcome of these projects are two final reports, one to help inform the federal government’s Disability Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP) and the other to help inform the National Autism Strategy (NAS).

Overall, Indigenous Peoples are more likely to have a disability than non-Indigenous people. They are also more susceptible to living with mental and physical disabilities because of the social and political climate as well as the retraumatizing impact that colonialism continues to have on Indigenous communities. In addition, Indigenous WG2STGD+ Peoples are more likely to live with pain- and mental health-related disabilities than both non-Indigenous women and Indigenous men.

Key findings from the DIAP Sharing Circles include the following:

  • a lack of available services that results in very long waitlists—sometimes two to three years—for both physical and mental health-related treatments.
  • an understanding that “wellness” has a significant, spiritual impact and differs from Western concepts of health, highlighting a need for safe spaces to discuss intergenerational trauma and begin the healing process
  • a lack of affordable housing coupled with inadequate housing, which creates additional stress for those living with disabilities
  • a need to have funding allocated to grassroots organizations led by Indigenous WG2STGD+ Peoples
  • a lack of accommodation in the workplace for employees living with mental (or invisible) disabilities

Participants in the NAS Sharing Circles were primarily Indigenous WG2STGD+ Peoples who have family members with autism. Similarly to the DIAP Sharing Circles, participants noted a lack of recognition of Indigenous ways of healing and the absence of available resources and supports for those who are diagnosed with autism.

Key findings from the NAS Sharing Circles include the following:

  • long waiting lists
  • the high cost of assessments and diagnoses
  • misdiagnoses anchored in racial bias and misogyny
  • a lack of understanding in the public school system on how to support children living with autisma
  • lack of understanding among police
  • a lack of supports for adults living with autisma
  • need for appropriate housing design

NWAC’s reports include a set of recommendations that call for a more holistic approach to wellness and for recognition that Indigenous WG2STGD+ Peoples have a right to access free, timely, and quality health services, as well as education, housing, employment, and safety. These approaches should be rooted in Indigenous Traditional and cultural values.