Welcome

I believe that extraordinary acts are not reserved for the special few. And that the vast majority of people want to make the world a better place. Of all the conditions that bind us together, the experience of disability is the most universal and therefore the most unifying. It’s the world’s most common condition. It encompasses diversity, exudes ingenuity and authenticity, and is in the majority! I am optimistic about what we can do together. Especially when we sprinkle our work with beauty and love. ~ Al

Featured Profile:Christa Couture

I attended Christa’s performance as a singer-songwriter a number of years ago and have followed her expanding career as a storyteller and radio host ever since. She is no stranger to loss and the grief that accompanies it. She has a rare and precious perspective on hardship, setback, and being different. I profiled Christa in Lesson 6, “Adversity is an Opportunity.” Read it here.

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The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving, and Changing the World

“This book reminds us of what we have in common: the power to create a good life for ourselves and for others, no matter what the world has in store for us.”~ Michael J. Fox

Pre-order today!

Amazon.com (paperback & kindle)
Chapters
Audiobook coming soon

What readers are saying

We’ve been grateful to hear back from a few of our first readers.
For more reviews or share your thoughts visit our feedback page.

“This book challenges the dominant discourse that persons with disabilities are incapable by focusing on their collective achievements. It is well researched and full of many moving stories of people who have made a difference despite the structural barriers and inequities they faced.”
Catalina Devandas UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
“In a world defined by accelerating change and interconnection, those who recognize their differences and give themselves permission to make a difference have a powerful advantage. The stories in this book illustrate how people with disabilities are seizing their power. They will help all of us see and seize ours.”
Bill Drayton CEO, Ashoka
“The Power of Disability celebrates the way people with disabilities can change the world—not in spite of their disability but because of it. It spoke deeply to me because I have a disability called depression. I don’t know how I came through three major bouts with this mental illness and lived to tell the tale. But I do know this: when you’ve had such an experience, you want to make meaning of it by sharing hope with others who suffer. This book is filled with the stories of many kinds of ‘wounded healers,’ told wonderfully well by Al Etmanski. I’m very grateful to the author and all whose stories he tells for reminding me, once again, of the power to be found in the places where we feel most vulnerable.”
Parker J. Palmer Author of On the Brink of Everything, Let Your Life Speak, and Healing the Heart of Democracy

Latest Blog Series

 

Lessons from the World of Disability

If we are to prevent our dear world from cascading out of control we had better make sure everyone’s gifts and talents are welcomed. In fact the collective wisdom, insight and engagement of people with disabilities may just be what will save us.

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Confessions of a Non Swimmer in the Currents of Culture

All my life I thought that the way to solve social problems was to make a big splash. To protest unjust ways of doing things, change laws, secure large sums of money, elect sympathetic politicians, mount popular public education campaigns, invent and spread innovative solutions. In preparation for approaching change differently, I’ve taken lessons from some of the strongest cultural swimmers I know. If I can keep my head above water long enough I’ll keep you posted on what I’m learning.

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We’re From Civil Society and We’re Here to Help

In a healthy democracy citizens are engaged as mature equal partners with government. They recognize government’s limitations and pitch in to compensate. They pursue solutions while also improving the overall decision making capacity of government. They take care not to … Read More

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Your Base is Just a Baseline

Dear Reader – I hope this post makes you curious about new approaches to organizing, campaigning and achieving your objectives.  Unless you have all the support you need, your twin organizing goals are: One, to maintain your existing base and … Read More

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Don’t Give Up

A change of government is always challenging. Particularly if you don’t respect the leader. Understandably you brace for the worst. The danger is that you succumb to the drama. And a prophecy is fulfilled. On the other hand all new governments, … Read More

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10 Canadian-International Book Pairings

Looking for a good book or two? Here are ten of my favourite Canadian books paired with ten favourites by writers from away.  For your long weekend reading pleasure.  A Disappearance in Damascus, the true story of reporter Deborah Campbell’s time … Read More

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You Have More Power Than You Think

You have more power to achieve the changes you are after than you think. Not as much as you might like. But more than you realize. The trick is to claim it. And not let the boundaries of that power … Read More

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10 good reasons why people who are poor should be in charge of ending poverty

People who are poor never get to be in charge of ending poverty Even though they know more about poverty than anyone. Here are ten good reasons why they should be. Every percentage point of the Canadian population represents 360,000 … Read More

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Yaniv Janson is Changing the World One Painting at a Time

“I wonder what they think about climate change?” That question contained the most compelling vision of inclusion I have ever encountered. It was offered by a speaker in Scotland a number of years back. She asked us to imagine a … Read More

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Making Peace with Fear, the Convincing and Beautiful Presence of Katheren Szabo

Katheren Szabo knows how to make peace with her fears. Which is something most of us aspire to. Especially during these outrageous, topsy turvy times when a low level state of fear hovers  like a dirty cloud.  For many good … Read More

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POP Goes the Vernacular

Vernacular is a good word to know but not a good word to use in a speech, song or sentence. It means the language of the people. Which is where Shakespeare found his poetry. It’s the reason Leonard Cohen left … Read More

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Making Political Love

Partisan politics continues to disappoint. Regardless of which party is elected, promises are broken. When decisions are made they are usually incremental. Never going as deep and substantive as promised. Even when bold decisions are made, bold implementation remains elusive. … Read More

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If you don’t know there are potatoes in the borsch …

My Polish ancestors used to say: “If you don’t know there are potatoes in the borsch there could be orphans working in the mine.” In other words if you don’t know what’s going on in your own backyard there could … Read More

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Blessing Your Presenters

Many years ago J.R., a remarkable community organizer was consulting in a northern Inuit community. One night after supper when stories were being told J.R. told a funny one involving his two young children. The room gasped. No one laughed. … Read More

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You Don’t Need to Start Another Movement

The question I get asked most often is, “How do you start a movement?” My answer is always, “You don’t need to start another movement. All you have to do is contribute to the movements that you are already part … Read More

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Adversity Makes you Wiser

Eventually the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” will strike you or someone or something that you love. The adversity or tragedy will be deeply personal. It will appear in a variety of forms – accident, loss, death, indignity, cruelty, … Read More

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The World Needs More Peace Makers not Social Innovators

The world needs more peace makers not social innovators. Why? Because there are already tens of millions of social innovators out there. Maybe more. There always have been. There always will be. People are very ingenious about inventing themselves out … Read More

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Easy Sell

Want to make your life better? How about your family, neighbourhood, community, country, world? Have I got a deal for you. All you have to do is: Take risks Get comfortable with ambiguity Ditch your habits Forget  your traditions Become … Read More

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Death’s Tug of War with Mystery and Science

Death grabbed my pen several decades ago when I was finishing a sentence that I had written a couple of hundred times before, “PLAN creates good lives for people with disabilities.” To my surprise the pen continued, “and good deaths for their … Read More

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Intellectual Imperialism and the Vocabulary of Harm

The headline of a recent Medium post, “The Age of the Imbecile” caught me at a bad time. I’m immersed in examining the harmful impact of words on people who experience a disability. “Imbecile” is one of the terms developed … Read More

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Percé Rock and the Crumbling Patriarchy

The French writer and surrealist André Breton wouldn’t have been the first man to think it but he’s the first one that I know of who wrote it. The excerpt below is from his book Arcanum 17: “The time has … Read More

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White Men Can’t Jump and People with Disabilities Can’t Act

Dear readers – you may have noticed that recently I slyly inserted a second weekly post. It is distributed, like this one, every Monday evening. They are excerpts from a new book I’m writing. The book, not yet named, will … Read More

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Throwing Snowballs for Dave Barrett

Dave Barrett and his  1972-75 government is the answer to people who assert that, once elected politicians lose their boldness. His government passed 357 bills in three short years. Including the Agricultural Land Reserve a bill to preserve farmland that … Read More

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Confessions of a Non Swimmer in the Currents of Culture

( first in a new series.) All my life I thought that the way to solve social problems was to make a big splash. To protest unjust ways of doing things, change laws, secure large sums of money, elect sympathetic … Read More

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What Are You Doing Here?

A man I admire greatly took that question seriously. And has become one of Canada’s most prolific and talented social entrepreneurs. His name is Brian Smith and his story needs more space than I have available. So here is the … Read More

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Emancipate yourself from Mental Slavery

Those words from Bob Marley’s Redemption Song were birthed in Nova Scotia. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,” was part of a speech delivered by Black rights activist Marcus Garvey in Sydney Nova Scotia in 1937. Marley likely heard about the … Read More

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Yayoi Kusama’s Path to Infinity

Tokyo based Yayoi Kusama is known as the “priestess of Polka Dots.” During the 1960’s she was part of New York’s avant-garde scene and became friends with Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keefe. She is now the most popular artist in … Read More

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Moose Hide – a love story

This is a story about men doing something about our propensity for violence against women. It is also a story about what one man, an Indigenous hunter, can do when he listens to his daughter. The daughter’s name is Raven. … Read More

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Cultural Transformation one (Baby Gerber) Step at a Time

Lucas Warren, the current Gerber baby, is delighting mainstream and social media. Of course he’s cute. And deserves all the oohs and ahs he is getting. The big deal is that he has down syndrome. Which to some people should … Read More

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Government Innovation isn’t Your Main Problem

Government innovation isn’t your main problem. It’s government’s. After many years of unsuccessfully peddling the processes of social innovation to governments across Canada I’ve learned: Not to peddle process. Instead to focus on proposing bold, workable solutions to problems they … Read More

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Eyes Wide Shut – Carmen Papalia’s Guide to Democracy

Vancouver artist Carmen Papalia’s adventures in darkness refreshes the practice of democracy. And illustrates yet again the depth of wisdom within the world of disability. His views on agency and accessibility are influencing art galleries around the world, including the … Read More

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Don’t Forget the Other Social Innovators

Canada’s federal government seems to have forgotten the other social innovators. They are not the only jurisdiction doing so. These forgotten practitioners are the ones who everyday, everywhere invent themselves out of adversity. They are the original hackers whose solutions may be worthy of … Read More

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“Saving” Ryan

Montreal born animator Ryan Larkin had a couple of brushes with Hollywood. Which is not surprising for someone once described as the Frank Zappa of animation. The first brush was for his 1970 Oscar-nominated film Walking. The second was for … Read More

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Hockey Legend Ken Dryden’sTips for Changing the Rules of Your Game

One of the world’s best hockey players, Ken Dryden wants to eliminate concussions from hockey. There are two key rule changes that he’s certain will do it: 1) Ban all hits to the head (head shots) and 2) Penalize players for … Read More

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Artisans for the Common Good

I have found a new elegant phrase to describe a class of people whose small daily acts without fanfare, flourish or compensation make the world a better place. These people are the original change makers, long before it became a profession … Read More

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The Role of Containers, Hacks, Frames and Metaphors in Social Change

You may have a great solution to a social challenge. Something that you are certain will be beneficial to thousands, maybe more. However, unless you have the right container, package, framing or metaphor your proven innovation may linger in isolation … Read More

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Mental Fitness Touches a Nerve in Everyone

Mental fitness touches a nerve in everyone, myself included. It exposes one of our deepest fears, the fear of deviancy and incapability, of losing it, of not measuring up, of not being seen as a person. The signs are everywhere. … Read More

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The World Needs More…Of You

The world needs more of you. Not just your projects, programs, and innovations. It needs the thinking, values and aspirations behind them. It needs to understand the soul of your work. Otherwise your projects, programs and innovations will have limited … Read More

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A Bystander’s Guide to Civility in a Time of Rage

Uproar, anger and righteousness are flourishing. Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Idle No More are three examples. You may have been on the receiving end of their concerns directly. Or felt the insinuation indirectly via mainstream or social media. You may … Read More

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A Desperado Waiting for a Train

It’s after midnight, the prairie wind is blowing cold and people are secure in their cells at the school for the incurables. Or are they? Curfew was hours ago and the guards are lulled into holiday drowsiness. Or maybe they’ve … Read More

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Using Starlight and Statistics to Reclaim our Humanity

The Harper government dimmed the lights at Statistics Canada and the National Council of Welfare in 2012.  Into that darkness stepped the Caledon Institute, who committed to continue collecting, analyzing and publishing data related to poverty and welfare in Canada. … Read More

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Twelve Books Shaping the World We Want

Looking for a good read for yourself or someone else? Have a look at these titles. Links to reviews and where to purchase included. Spirit Bear and Children Make History! this beautifully illustrated book will appeal to the children in … Read More

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Hold on to your Crowning Achievements

Season two of The Crown dropped into Netflix  on the weekend. The historical backdrop is the Suez Crisis which earned the future Prime Minister of Canada, Lester Pearson, the Nobel Prize for “saving the world.” I wondered who would play … Read More

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What to do when the door to the status quo opens slightly

There are times when you manage to open the door to the status quo ever so slightly. By status quo, I refer to those organizations and institutions (foundations, big budget non-profits, universities, government ministries, health systems, police departments and so on) … Read More

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I Felt Your Outrage

I felt your outrage. It exploded full blast. Catching me sitting at the back of the room. Unaware. Me, who neither shares your experience or your identity. Me, who you accuse of privilege. Who can never be one of you. Why … Read More

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First Leap, Bold; Second Leap, Wild

That first bold leap usually lands you right at the front of the status quo but not very far ahead of it. That’s because you are carrying the lethargy of the past and the momentum of outmoded approaches on your … Read More

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Making Peace with the Unforgivable

On November 11th we are asked to remember those who gave their lives fighting for peace. How could we not forget? Armed conflict, brutality, violence, torture, abuse and killing continue. We’re exposed to it daily. Most of us indirectly through … Read More

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Hitting the Key Notes of Your Time – Learning from Margaret Atwood and Gabrielle Roy

People are inherently story driven. Therefore an important aptitude of successful movements and change-making efforts is aligning with the powerful and shifting cultural stories that are already out there. You can, of course, learn about storytelling, narrative principles and effective … Read More

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Wild Rose, Wild Mind

Innovations from Alberta have broken many of the molds that have trapped Canadians within the momentum of outmoded approaches. Think Chief Crowfoot, think the Famous Five and the Persons case. Think its predecessor, the United Farm Women of Alberta. Think … Read More

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The Injustice of Acting Boldly

What do Cindy Blackstock, Martin Luther King Jr., Barb Goode (disability leader), Emily Murphy, Nelly McClung (plus other members of the Famous Five), Cicely Saunders (founder of hospice), Malala Yousafzai, Muhammad Yunus, Ann Livingston (co-founder VANDU), Rachel Carson, Chief  Big … Read More

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From a Stretch to a Leap – Collaborating With the Enemy

The promise of Adam Kahane’s latest book Collaborating With the Enemy is a stretch for me. First, there’s my preference for collaborations that I’m in charge of and partnerships that report to me! Then there’s my tendency to slam my … Read More

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Inspector Gamache’s Recipe for Boldness

Dear Reader – After a stimulating working vacation in Australia I’m bursting with new content. To make up for my silence these past few weeks I will publish on Mondays as well as my usual Thursdays for the next little while. … Read More

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