The Myth of Sisyphus with Disability: Part One

The cover of (The Myth of Sisyphus with Disability) by Adam Kearney CREDIT: COURTESY OF ADAM KEARNEY
Ableism is the discrimination against people with disability, and it is a close bed fellow to capitalism.

This article is Part One in a series of excerpts from Fanshawe grad Adam Kearney’s essay, The Myth of Sisyphus with Disability.

In the spring of 2021 I was having a discussion with my friend in his backyard about our unique experiences growing up with two very different physical disabilities. Eventually I brought up the topic of memoirs — how a mutual friend of ours had suggested that I should consider writing one. I shared how I struggled with the idea of why my story should be seen as unique or even important enough that anyone would want to read it. I was most concerned about the fall out conversations I would have to have with readers who felt that my story was “inspirational” to them. We agreed that we had served enough time in our youth as inspirational figures by serving as regional mascots for the Easter Seals Society. Between us there were too many pats on the head and “you’re so brave”s to even start to count.

That’s when my friend shared an interesting take for how he wanted to handle his memoir. It would be set in a dystopian future where Medical Assistance in Death (MAiD) had progressed to a point where people with disability didn’t have to apply for assistance in dying, rather we had to plead our case as to why we should live. I thought it was an incredibly unique idea, but personally thought my friend was being a little on the dramatic side with his premise. Surely the MAiD program would never get to the point where people without a terminal diagnosis would apply for it.

A person shown reading a book. Text states exam time can feel overwhelming. Let us help you succeed.

However, I was still fresh on my journey of reconnecting with my identity as a person with disability and very naive about what it is like to live in Canada as a person with a disability. I should probably disclose a few key things at this point. First, I was diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI, or brittle bone disorder) at birth. Having had countless fractures and surgeries in my childhood, I was relieved when they slowed down almost to a stop in my teen years. Secondly, this occurred around the same time when bullying started to happen in high school. I wanted to be seen as anything but the “disabled kid.” I focused all my energy on blending in. This meant disassociating myself as much as possible from disability. I would downplay and overcompensate for my disability, and say things like, “oh, I’m not like that” or, “I try not to whine about things.” For me it was the highest compliment to hear from a friend, “I don’t see or think of you as disabled.”

This happened around the same time I became legally old enough to drink. Which helped in two ways — I could go out and be social by drinking with my peers and the numbing effects of alcohol really helped silence the anxiety I had about fitting in. It’s worth noting that at the time of the conversation with my friend in his backyard I was coming up on having a year of sobriety and I was really focused on reconnecting with the disability community.

I have thought about my friend’s memoir premise more and more ever since that day. How bad really is it out there for a person with a disability? Aren’t there social support programs to help all people live healthy and fulfilling lives?

At its core the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is intended to provide financial assistance to an individual with disability who is unable to work. The problem has become that this funding hasn’t been adjusted in years, and it certainly has not kept up to inflation rates. Currently, a recipient gets a monthly maximum amount of $1,169, or $14,028 a year. To put that into context, the same government deems the poverty line to be $20,000 for a yearly income. This leaves an ODSP recipient at roughly 40 per cent below the poverty line. To add insult to injury, the application process for the Ontario Disability Support Program is incredibly difficult to navigate. This leaves you to feel lucky if you are even approved for it. Obviously, folks are struggling and most of the time counting down the days until their next payment at the end of the month. It really is no surprise that with no other options, some feel like they have no other choice other than to apply for MAiD. Seriously, it’s a thing here in Canada, feel free to look it up. Just type CBC ODSP MAiD into google.

Clearly in the opinion of society a line can be drawn between a person’s collective worth, and what they can contribute to our capitalist society. Ableism is the discrimination against people with disability, and it is a close bed fellow to capitalism. Rarely are concessions made to make access to employment an equal and level playing field. There is a lot of big talk about it, but I can speak to the reality that there is rarely heartfelt follow through. I have seen decades of politicians making campaign promises, only to back down when they realize how costly it will be to make systemic changes. Not just costs to them, but also the businesses who supported their campaigns.

I have been struggling to find full time employment for a few years now. I graduated from a graphic design program at a college not too far from my hometown. I would come to understand that a lot of people from a lot of other colleges close to their hometowns have the same story. That the designer marketplace is not short of fresh bodies who are willing to work for less and give away more work. Making any job in the field highly sought after and driving down prices for freelance work. This is why I was lucky, or why I was told so, to get a job in a print shop that was owned by a friend of my father... [to be continued]

This memoir essay was published as a zine in Nov. 2022. If you enjoy it and feel you would like to support the author, you can find a pay what you can PDF or purchase a physical copy at