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Editorial: Measuring Well-Being

I asked some individuals to tell me how they determine their well-being. Most said they measure it by the state of their physical, mental and emotional health--with varying determinants for each.

The "experts" use at least eight components--all with a number of determinants--to measure the well-being of a person, a community, a country, and the world.

The definition of well-being adopted by the Institute of Wellbeing (www.ciw.ca) is: "The presence of the highest possible quality of life in its full breadth of expression, focused on but not necessarily exclusive to: good living standards, robust health, a sustainable environment, vital communities, an educated populace, balanced time use, high levels of civic participation, and access to and participation in dynamic arts, culture & recreation."

The Institute claims that it's common to rate well-being by linking it to the Gross Domestic Product (The value of goods and services produced). It further maintains that the GDP was never intended for that purpose, because the GDP doesn't take into account things that have a dollar value but may or may not be good for the well-being of society--like cigarettes and fossil fuels that cause cancer and pollute the environment, and things like volunteerism and unpaid housework that are not given value under GDP but have value when looking at well-being.

Presently, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) measures well-being of Canadians and Canadian society according to: financial security, learning, work, housing, family life, social participation, leisure, health, security and environment. As I was reading material on the HRSDC website (http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca), I noticed that determinants of well-being were frequently linked to work and the economy. I was also struck by other writings:

People with disabilities are among four groups at higher risk of being low income (not being able to meet basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and savings). Savings!

"Renters and those with less than $20,000 per year were much more likely not to be able to find adequate suitable and affordable housing."

The write-up outlines how important learning is to well-being. Most people would agree that learning usually requires access to information, and yet a very small percentage of written material is accessible to people with low or no vision. It states, "Participation in education and training can ... open the door to new opportunities that can improve one's standard of living." That should be of interest to the many Canadians with seeing limitations who have a good education and can't secure adequate and meaningful employment, not to mention the ones who have given up and removed themselves from the labour force or report that they have retired before age 65.

Most would agree that social participation improves their own and the community's well-being, and yet persons who are blind face financial, accessibility and attitudinal barriers to joining in community activities. "Measures of factors that influence social participation include social networks, sense of belonging and level of trust." I believe social networks and a sense of belonging are covered by my above comments about barriers, but the level of trust that some in the disabled community feel is seriously shaken every time there's a news story about euthanasia and the Robert Latimers in our society.

The HRSDC site further states, "Security is a fundamental component of well-being that involves safety and protection from harm. It also involves individual and community perceptions of safety, which can be just as important to well-being as the experience of harm or threats of harm." From my point of view, security is more than safety in the streets and homes being vandalized. Safety and protection from harm for some of us goes back to the issue of trust mentioned above. The "experts" don't seem to measure that kind of safety.

While facts about income and housing are no surprise, and despite acknowledgment of these facts, there doesn't seem to be much will to remedy things. Is Canadian society in denial? Is it to someone's benefit that some people remain poor and have inadequate housing, as well as the other inequities mentioned in the above paragraphs? Wouldn't there be benefits for Canadian society to reap as a result of eliminating these inequities? Is it too much bother and uncomfortable to have people with disabilities integrated into mainstream society?

As a person with a disability, some of the ways by which I measure my well-being are:

  • Being considered equal to my peers until otherwise proven.
  • Having power over how I spend money that I receive to take care of my day-to-day life.
  • Knowing that I can ask for assistance and not give up my power and the choices about how that assistance is granted.
  • Contributing to decisions made about the services available to me.
  • Being afforded opportunity to participate in my community equal to that of my peers.
  • Knowing that the people I elect to government will be as concerned about my welfare as they are the welfare of my peers.
  • Being allowed to evaluate my quality of life by the same measurements as my peers, rather than having to invent different standards in order to console myself.
  • Trusting that I can enjoy with dignity the same rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship as my peers.

I wonder what the Institute of Well-being and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada would do with these measurements of well-being?

Despite the seemingly accepted conditions in Canada, Blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians are for the most part survivors. You'll notice that there are some writings within these pages that portray various achievements while striving for and maintaining well-being. I invite and encourage you to read on and see for yourself.

Best Wishes.

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