Ray Cohen, founder and CEO of the Canadian Abilities Foundation and editor of Abilities magazine, passed away on March 22, 2013 at the age of 64. Ray was a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. Through the Abilities Foundation, Ray fostered Abilities Arts Festival’s first tentative steps; and was a continuing guide and supporter both to the organization as a whole and to our many artists.
Our heartfelt condolences to Ray’s family and friends, and especially to his wife Michelle Amerie, a longtime board member of Abilities Arts Festival.
We wanted to share Ray’s wonderful contribution to Al Etmanski’s Becoming Visible series.
Ray Cohen – Becoming Visible 2011
More Voices of People With Disabilities for the General Good
Ray Cohen has been unlocking the resources of institutions and government agencies to benefit groups often overlooked by big systems since the 1970’s. This includes progressive work in supporting children in care, alcohol and drug treatment and youth employment. Since 1986 he has provided a forum, through Abilities magazine for the voices and deeds of citizens with disabilities, their families and supporters. Backed by the Canadian Abilities Foundation which he founded and still leads, the narrative or storyline has shifted from people with disabilities as objects of pity and charity to agents of contribution.
More Voices of People with Disabilities for the General Good
I would like to think 2011 to be a year of unprecedented positive change for people with disabilities in Canada – and that each of us makes a significant contribution to that very worthwhile end! Here is a little bit of a context. Since 1986, when I started the Canadian Abilities Foundation, I have been increasingly struck by the amount of passivity existing in our population around important issues. People with disabilities have been referred to, at least within the North American context, as the last front in the struggle for human rights. Whether we are talking about physical access, education, employment or transferability of services across our country, people with disabilities must still ride on the back of the bus – if they are even allowed to get on the bus at all. It is true that there have been great strides. It is worth noting that barely a generation ago, people with disabilities were warehoused, condemned to live apart and rarely seen in public. The closing down of institutions, increased accessibility, and emerging legislation have changed that considerably. But there are many hurdles yet to overcome before we can say that we live in a truly inclusive world. One would think that people with disabilities themselves would lead the charge towards positive change and equity – but after having seen the same faces age along with my own for nearly a quarter of a century, I am very much afraid that we are missing the boat. Most people with disabilities need to become more engaged. We are 4.4 million strong in this country – and we can effect positive change. There are many opportunities. Organizations such as the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Disabled Womenʼs Network (DAWN), Inclusion Press, Independent Living Canada, and PLAN are just a few of those more than willing to share knowledge and, very often, opportunities for involvement. The Canadian Abilities Foundation, through our newsletter, website and magazine, frequently offers opportunities to get involved in matters important to all of us – it is, after all, worth remembering that a rising tide raises all boats. So, my hope for 2011 is that we see a turning point where people with disabilities take advantage of opportunities as never before in making their voices heard for the general good. Do not let the committed few carry the ball for you. To smack a tired platitude squarely across the bottom: it does, in fact, take a village to raise a child.