DSQ > Winter 2008, Volume 28, No.1

This paper asks if disability protests in Canada diffused from similar protests in the US or if they sprang up independently. It analyzes 1215 American protests and 177 Canadian protests which occurred between 1970 and 2005. It shows that Canadian protests began later than protests in the US, are more likely than American protests to be impairment-specific, are more likely to have demands in which focus on services as opposed to rights and are more likely to target provincial governments. Explanations include the effect of several notable protest successes and the development of multiple-impairment, single-issue organizations in the American context, and the social structure of disability services at the local or provincial levels in the Canadian context. The paper concludes that Canadian protests did not occur because of American protests or diffuse from them.

Americans often think that anything new and innovative that occurs in Canada has come up over the border from the US. That is as true of disability protests as it is of cars. In the US, there were disability-related protests in the US after World War I (Barnartt and Scotch, 2000) and also during 1935-1938 by the League of the Physically Handicapped (Longmore, 1997) and by groups of blind people. During the 1950's there were blindness-related protests, at least one protest by the "Parent's Movement" (Dwybad, 1990) and at least one disability-related protest by veterans (Palmer, 2000). Disability protests began in the US in earnest in the early1970's and in Canada in the late 1970's. Did that happen because the disability movement diffused from the US to Canada? That is the question this paper seeks to clarify.

Social movement theorists argue that collective action frames, as well as social movements themselves, diffuse (McAdam, 1995), and they argue that geographical proximity combined with cultural and linguistic similarity should increase the likelihood that diffusion will occur (Wejnert, 2002; Della Porta and Diani, 1999: 247). Clearly such similarities increase the likelihood that social characteristics would diffuse between the US and Canada more easily than between the US and Mexico. Those theorists would suggest that it was likely that disability protests did diffuse from the US to Canada.

However, social movement theorists are also increasingly recognizing the roles which social structure and culture play in the formation of social movements (Giugni, 1996). This sociological perspective would give a different answer: it would suggest that the direct diffusion of disability protests was unlikely between two societies with different social structures and cultures. Rather, social movement diffusion would not happen without alteration, since no two countries have exactly the same social structure and culture.

When considering the US and Canada, it would seem that the latter theorists would have the stronger case. There are a number of reasons for this. Despite propinquity, as well as the supposedly homogenizing effects of modernization and globalization, Canadian social structure and culture are not the same as those of the US. This is true in general and also in relation to disability. For one thing, the legal conceptions of both "equality" and "disability" used by the two countries are quite different (Oakes, 2005). Specifically, disability in Canadian federal law is dealt with under "human rights" whereas the American system deals with it under "minority rights" (Blomley and Pratt, 2001). In Canada, equality for people with disabilities is explicitly included at the constitutional level in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Bickenbach, 2001: 570). Discourse around disability in Canada is often based upon notions of citizenship or citizenship rights (Rioux and Prince, 2002), but this is not the case in the US (Tyjewski, 2006). Oakes (2005: 234) notes that "the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that one can be disabled within the meaning of human rights law without having any functional limitation."

In the US, people with disabilities are treated as a minority group, and the laws relating to their rights fall under the category of "anti-discrimination laws." As such, they lack the force of constitutional guarantees, they depend upon individual efforts for their enforcement, and their remedies are at the level of individual changes or changes which affect only a group of similar individuals (a "class") (Bickenbach, 2001: 569). For this and other reasons, Oakes (2005) suggests that there is a greater likelihood that Canadians with disabilities will win discrimination cases than will Americans with disabilities.

Additionally, there are differences in the social structure of services for people with disabilities. In Canada, both legal definitions and services emanate primarily at the provincial level — except that provinces have recently tried to push these down to the municipal level (Kitchin and Wilton, 2003). There is wide variation by province in laws and practices, so that, for example, in Ontario the Office of Disability Issues was placed within the Ministry of Citizenship (Crichton and Jongbloed, 1998: 216). This is somewhat startling from an American perspective which views disability either as a health-related issue or an issue of minority group status.

If the social structure and culture of disability and disability services are different (these being the usual targets of disability protests), we would not expect the patterns of protest to support a diffusion hypothesis. Rather, we would expect the patterns of protest to be related to the specific situations experienced by people with disabilities in those countries. This paper examines the patterns of protest in both countries in order to see if they support the diffusion hypothesis.


This paper is based upon event-history analysis (Olzak, 1989) of protests. In this methodology, the unit of analysis is the protest event. Reports of protests were collected from more than two hundred newspapers, using print indices and Lexus-Nexus as searching tools. Information was also gathered from books, newspapers, and magazines published within or about disability or deaf communities, from electronic news lists in which protest events were discussed, and from World Wide Web sites of organizations involved in protests. (In most cases, information about protests mentioned in non-newspaper sources was also located in a newspaper for the relevant city, so that sources of information could be kept as consistent as possible.)

Event history analysis may not necessarily be the best methodology to use to address questions of social movement diffusion, because case studies of social movements are needed to identify the specific types of transmission networks which produced the new ideas or tactics. However, Oliver and Myers (2003: 173) note that, "Lacking this kind of data, we want to know whether different patterns of social organization will give rise to different patterns in protest event data." That is, for research examining macro-level rather than micro-level patterns, event history analysis may be sufficient to answer macro-level questions. Thus, we feel that event history analysis may suggest at least preliminary answers to the questions posed here.

It is important to clarify exactly what is being measured. This paper is not reporting on the entirety of one or more social movements. Rather, it is confined to protests, which are one type of collective activity in which social movements engage.1 Protests are defined as being collective, hence including more than one person; contentious, meaning angry, demanding and ideologically based; political, so challenging the power structure and seeking social (as opposed to individual) change; and non-normative, so not including actions such as lobbying or law-suits, which are normative political activities in American society. Collective activities whose goal was fund-raising were not included.

Disability-related protests were defined as contentious action which include the above mentioned characteristics but also 1) are protests conducted by persons with impairments or others (assumed to be allies) and 2) are about an issue with relevance to people with impairments. Simply being a protest in which people with impairments took part did not guarantee its inclusion. Thus, a protest by Stephan Hawking against the American invasion of Iraq was rejected on two grounds: It was not collective, and it was not explicitly linked to people with disabilities. A protest by athletes at the Special Olympics related to the apartheid situation in South Africa was also not included as not being a disability issue. Anti-war protests which protested the effect wars have on people with disabilities were included, as were protests related to AIDS or breast cancer if the protest issue was monetary benefits or another disability-related issue. But protests whose issue was gay rights or which was a fund raising activity for breast cancer research were not included.2

Overall, 177 protests which fit the criteria used here were identified as being Canadian and 1215 as being American.3 Because of the inherent limitations of using newspaper data,4 it is not assumed that these protests constitute the entire universe of protests which have occurred. It is also not assumed that these constitute all of the social movement activity in the two countries. Rather, it is assumed that contentious protests form one category of the many types of collective actions in which social movement engage.5

Based upon the information gathered, for each protest almost 100 variables were code, and the data were entered into an SPSS/Windows system file for analysis. Variables included the date and place; the type of impairment demand; two specific protest demand; types of protesters; if organizations were involved (and, if so, which) ; types of tactics used; protest target; protest duration and size; whether there were police, violence, or arrests; if the protest attained its demands, and if other protesters were involved. Only a few of the variables are reported here.

Disability protests make demands which span a gamut of issues, from accessibility, para-transit and support payments of various types to telethons, education, and assisted suicide. Up to two demands were coded for each protest. In order to reduce the complexity, for this paper the demands were recoded into the categories of rights, services, and all others. Demands dealing with rights relate to issues of accessibility or discrimination, policies, and laws.6 Demands dealing with services related to monetary issues or characteristics or types of services. Other types of demands included those relating to telethons and assisted suicide.

The protest demands could be categorized in terms of the type of impairment to which the demand related; these are called impairment demands. The type of impairment demand being made in any protest was based both upon the types of protesters and the types of protest demand involved. Using these two pieces of information, a judgment was made about the impairment group(s) to which the demand was most likely to relate.7 If a demand was related to many or most types of impairments, it was categorized as being "cross-disability," following the terminology used by Longmore (1997) and Young (1998). Otherwise, it was categorized as being related to a specific type of impairment (visual, hearing, psychiatric, or mobility impairment; developmental disability; or another type of impairment). Up to two impairment types could be coded for each protest.

The type of target toward which the protesters addressed their demands was usually clear from the media coverage of the protest. In a few cases it was not, and then decisions were made as to the most likely target. Usually, however, the major target was not "the public," since all protests intend to increase public awareness of an issue; that category was only chosen when the public was the explicit — and only — target of the protest.


Many disability advocacy organizations were forming in Canada in the 1960's and 1970's (Rioux and Prince, 2002), and some types of disability activism began at that time. For example, in 1967, disability advocates in Hamilton, Ontario delivered a petition to the city council demanding that the City Hall and polling places be made accessible (Kitchen and Wilton, 2003). However, the first protests occurred in 1975 and 1977; they were followed by two in 1979, one in 1980, and two in 1981.

The 1975 and 1977 protests occurred in Quebec and focused upon overturning laws about "protection" of handicapped (sic) people and about including disability in the Quebec charter of Rights and Freedoms (Boucher et al., 2003: 144 - 145). One of the 1979 protests was a strike by blind workers at a sheltered workshop in Edmonton. Beginning on August 21, the workers protested for 33 days against their low salaries and unsafe working conditions ("Blind workers picket," 1979; "Blind workers strike," 1979). The protest which occurred in 1980 was extremely influential. This protest occurred when the Parliament was beginning its discussion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At that time, 14 members of the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped, who had been lobbying for the inclusion of disability as one of the characteristics to be included in Section 15 (the equal rights provision of the Charter), protested on Parliament Hill waving signs and placards. This was a cross-disability protest which was ultimately successful, first in gaining an audience for the protestors with the Joint Parliamentary Committee and then in getting disability added to Section 15 (Peters, 2003: 121 - 128).

Figure 1 shows the progression of protests in the two countries over time. In Canada, there were fewer than 10 protests per year, until a spike in the number of protests occurred in1989. In that year the number of protests jumped to 22. Partially, this reflects a large number of deafness-related protests that occurred on May 12, 1989, which the Canadian Association of the Deaf termed "National Deaf Education Day" (Roots, 2003). This was activism that the deaf community explicitly attributed to the example set by the Deaf President Now protest in the US (Picard, 1988). The years 1995 and 2003 also had spikes of approximately 14 protests; other years had fewer protests.

In the US, there were small numbers of protests in the early 1970's, including several related to blindness. Things began to change in 1977, with what are called the HEW protests or the Rehab Act protests. The largest protest involved the take-over of a building in San Francisco for 35 days as well as smaller protests over this issue in a number of other cities (Barnartt and Scotch, 2000; Johnson, 1983). Partly because of these protests, by 1978 several American newspapers had run articles discussing the "new" minority demanding its rights (Lembke, 1975; Schultz, 1977; Roberts, 1978), and at least one book was published on the subject (Kleinfield, 1977). (Similar claims about an end to passivity among people with disabilities were being made in the Canadian media at least by 1985 (Mironowicz, 1985) but not, that this author could find, earlier.)

The numbers of protests gradually increased, although the increase was not steady. Two important successes were the Deaf President Now protest in 1988 and the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, although the latter was not the result of a protest success (Barnartt and Scotch, 2000). Since the ADA was passed, the number of protests in most years has been greater than it was before 1990. The peak occurred in 1999, when a large number of protests by veterans about their benefits pushed the number of protests above 200.

figure one, a line graph; the x axis represents the years from nineteen seventy five through two thousand five; the y axis represents the number of protests per year; the graph includes two lines; one line depicts the number of protests per year in the united states, the other line depicts the number of protests per year in canada

N = 177 protests, Canada

N = 1215 protests, US

Figure 2 shows the types of impairment demands made in the protests. Large differences can be seen in between the countries. Demands related to deafness (11% in the US versus 21% in Canada), psychiatric disabilities (8% in the US versus 13% in Canada), and other disabilities (2% in the US versus 10% in Canada) occurred more often in Canada. However, demands related to mobility issues (19% in the US versus 7% in Canada) and demands that were cross-disability (51% in the US versus 37% in Canada) were more common in the US.8

figure two, titled impairment demand by country; a bar graph, the x axis represents seven categories of impairment at issue in the protests; the y axis represents the percentage of protests making demands related to each category; figures are given for each category for the united states and for canada

N = 1199 demands, US

N = 186 demands, Canada

Figure 3 shows the proportions of all demands which were cross-disability in each country by year. In the US, there was wide variation by year. During several of the early years more than half of the protests were cross-disability, and after 1991 it was also true during some years. In Canada, before 1986 at least half of all protests were cross-disability, but this did not occur again until 1997. Between 1997 and 2004, the majority of protests in most years have been cross-disability.

figure three, percentage of demands that were cross-disability per year per country, a line graph; the x axis represents the years from nineteen seventy one through two thousand five; the y axis represents the percentage of demands made at protests in a given country that were cross-disability; one line represents the figures for the united states; one line represents the figures for canada

N = 1198 protests, US

N = 165 protests, Canada

Figure 4 shows the categories of protest demands in the two countries. While about 45% of demands in American protests related to rights, only about 33% of demands in Canadian protests did. While 58% of demands in Canadian protests related to services, only about 36% of demands in American protests did. About 18% of the demands in the US protests but only about 9% of those in Canadian protests related to all other issues, including education.9

figure four, a bar graph, titled demand category by country; the x axis indicates whether protest demands were for rights, for services, or for other; the y axis indicates what percentage of demands fell into each category; for each category there is a bar representing the percentage for the united states and for canada

N = 1595 demands, US

N = 165 demands, Canada

Figure 5 highlights protest targets. Protests in Canada were by far most likely to target provincial governments (54%). A much small proportion focused on non-governmental targets (21%) or target local governments (18%), and only about 8% of the protests targeted the federal government. In the US, however, about one third targeted the federal government, while about one third were aimed at non-governmental targets. A little more than 20% of the protests targeted state governments, but only about 9% targeted local governments.10

figure five, titled protest target by country; a bar graph; the x axis indicates whether the entity to be persuaded by the protest was a local government, state or provincial government, the federal government, or a non-governmental entity; the y axis represents the number of each country's protests directed at each category; for each category, there is a bar for the united states and a bar for canada

N = 1136 protests, US

N = 165 protests, Canada

Chi square for the differences between the countries = 105.27, sig. < .0001

There were a few other ways which the countries differ. American protests were much more likely to have had organizational involvement than did Canadian protests (62% to 38%).11 American protests were also more likely to have had police involvement than did Canadian protests (16% to 7%),12 although in neither country did a majority of the protests attract attention from the police. Canadian protests were much more likely to use the march/rally/picketing format than other tactics (data not shown). They were also likely to be slightly larger than protests in the US. The median for the estimated minimum and maximum number of participants is 40 - 50 for the US and 50 - 55 for Canada, but these are based upon small numbers of protests. However, those protests for which there are data show that American protests were slightly longer than Canadian protests — the median protest length for American protests was four and one half hours but it was three hours for Canadian protests.

There were small and statistically non-significant differences in the proportions of protests which had external support or were part of coalitions (approximately 25% in the US and 28% in Canada), which were disruptive (23% in the US and 18% in Canada), which received any type of response (38% of American protests and 43% of Canadian), and which were partially or completely successful (14% of American protests and 10% of Canadian protests).

These results show substantial, and statistically significant, differences between the US and Canada in many aspects of disability protests. Canadian protests began a few years later than protests in the US. They were more likely than American protests to be impairment-specific — and relatively more likely than American protests to have been related to deafness, intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, and to other disabilities, especially autism, than to blindness or mobility impairments. Demands in Canadian protests were more likely to focus on services, while in American protests they were more likely to focus on rights. Canadian protests were most likely to target provincial governments, while American protests were most likely to be aimed either at the federal government or non-governmental targets.


Because contentious action is risky, and because of the so-called "free rider problem" — in which the many are quite happy to enjoy the gains made by the few (Olson, 1965) — mobilization is one of the central problems all social movements must solve.

Disability is not a unitary condition. It is much more variable than other conditions, such as gender or race, which although not completely unitary are still less variable. Because of differences between people with different types of impairments, as well as those among people with a single type of impairment, mobilizing people with impairments for contentious political actions such as protests is perhaps even more problematic than is mobilizing other types of people for protest. In fact, because of the difficulties of mobilizing people with disabilities, including isolation and transportation, Scotch (1988) predicted that there would not be a disability movement. The results presented here show us what types of mobilization occurred; our task is to explain why. Examination of social structural, cultural and historical aspects of disability, and disability protests in the two countries can help us understand why the patterns are so different.

Examining the trajectory of disability protests over time begins to give us a part of the answer. Disability protests in the US began earlier than they did in Canada, in part because the civil rights movements influenced both people with disabilities (Barnartt and Scotch, 2000) and sympathizers (Scotch, 1984) to want to extend the "frame" (Snow and Benford, 1988) of civil rights to people with disabilities. Some early disability activists mentioned that they were affected both by the civil rights and the women's movements. For example, Irving Zola, a respected scholar in the area of disability, was married to one of the founders of the Boston Women's Health Collective, a major player in the women's health movement, and he often mentioned being affected by the women's movement (1983). Ed Roberts was at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1960's, around the time of the Free Speech movement, and his fight for independent living was influenced by that and the women's movement (Shapiro, 1993: 47). Justin Dart, another prominent disability rights activist, studied and was influenced by the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Shapiro, 1993: 111). The American civil rights movement did have an impact in Canada, as disabled people there also made the parallels between their situation and that of Blacks and others in the US ("Strike termߪ," 1979), but it was not the impetus for disability protests to begin.

Some protests in the US appeared to have been spurred on by the two protest successes and one legislative success mentioned above: The 1977 Rehabilitation Act protests, the 1988 Deaf President Now protest, and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. But they were also spurred on by one extremely active social movement organization, ADAPT, which conducted over 250 protests, or almost one quarter of all US protests. Its acronym originally stood for Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit, but the organization changed the meaning to Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today after the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated that public transportation systems either be accessible or provide para-transit equivalent to public transit. (This organization is one of the reasons why American protests had higher levels of organizational involvement, and it is also why US protests were more likely to have demands related to mobility, since its original focus was on accessible public transit.)

In Canada there were a few early protest successes, although there were major policy successes. At the federal level there was, in 1982, the passage of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Prince, 2004) and, in 1986, the passage of the federal Employment Equity Act, which covers the federal public sector and part of the private sector (England, 2003). Only in the former case did protest appear to affect the outcome.13 There were, however, several provincial-level successes about which there had been contentious political action. One success built upon the early protests in Quebec, referred to above, which succeeded in getting laws about "protection" of handicapped (sic) people replaced with laws about rights and in getting disability included in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Boucher et al., 2003: 144 - 145). A later legislative success was the passage of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2001; this was the subject of quite a bit of contentious action.

Social movement theorists have delineated many benefits of successful protests, any or all of which may lead to increases in the ease of subsequent mobilization and therefore increases in levels of subsequent contentious action (Barnartt, 1994; Barnartt and Scotch, 2000: 249+). Successes may lead to similar claims by other claimants (Meyer and Tarrow, 1998: 1), a Arevolution of rising expectations@ in which early gains won by the protesting group lead to a desire for more gains in other areas, and therefore increased willingness to join a social movement (Payne, 1990: 161). In an example of this phenomenon, Groch (1994: 385) cites the case of a woman who passively observed disability activists protesting for transportation accessibility for several years. After riding an accessible bus won by those protesters, she said, "Now I believe we have to be more forceful" (emphasis added). The fact that the American disability community had early protest successes was one reason why they were increasingly able to mobilize new protesters, and it helps explain why the level of protests increased so much over time. The Canadian disability community did not have such early protest successes which could serve to prod people into becoming involved. Rather, the earliest successes tended to come from lobbying, and so that type of activity was more likely to increase subsequently.

One aspect of disability protests which affects their mobilization potential is the type of impairment demand being made. Protests which make impairment-specific demands are most likely only to be able to mobilize-and often only to want or attempt to mobilize-people who have that type of impairment. On the other hand, protests which make demands which could apply to all people with impairments have a much larger pool of potential adherents from which to draw. Thus the fact that a larger proportion of American protests made cross-disability demands overall, and that the majority of demands were cross-disability in more years than was true in Canada, increased the mobilization potential. Boucher et al. (2003: 143) assert that the growth of cross-disability organizations was an important step toward advocacy in Canada, since these organizations "are the cornerstones of the disability movement." This may be true, but those organizations appear not to have been engaging in protests to the same degree as similar organizations in the US. They appear to have been putting their energies into other social movement activities such as lobbying and working closely with Parliamentary committees. This paid off in some successes, and it supports the argument that Canadian protests did not simply diffuse from the US.

One of the hallmarks of disability protests in the US is the emergence of a type of organization which combines these mobilization potentials. Called multiple-impairment, single-issue organizations, these organizations focus on one issue which appeals to people who have a variety of types of impairments. ADAPT is one example, but there are a number of others, including Not Dead Yet, which opposes assisted suicide; Jerry's Orphans, which objects to the portrayal of people with disabilities in telethons; and The FDR in a Chair, which focused on how Franklin Delano Roosevelt was to be portrayed in the memorial that opened in 1997. (See Barnartt and Scotch, 2000; Barnartt, 2000; and Barnartt et al., 2001 for fuller discussion of this issue.) These organizations are more likely than impairment-specific organizations to be able to mobilize a range of people, although they do not potentially appeal to as many people as truly cross-disability organizations do.

Such organizations do not appear to have emerged in Canada — or at least they were not involved in protests.14 The organizations involved in protests tended to be more traditional. Either they were impairment-specific organizations such as the Canadian (or a provincial) Association of the Deaf, or they were cross-disability organizations such as the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities, the Windsor Advisory Committee on Disability Issues, or the Comité de liaisons des handicaps physiques de Quebec. There were no multiple-impairment, single-issue organizations, and so the Canadian organizations lacked the type of mobilization advantage that the American organizations increasingly had.

On the other hand, if some protests make cross-disability demands and others make impairment-specific demands, the number of issues being protested increases. With more issues being made public, the mobilization potential also increases, since potential adherents are more likely to find at least one issue which resonates with their own situation. Clearly, protests in both countries have benefited from this dual mobilization strategy, but the disability community in Canada has not yet maximized the mobilization potential of cross-disability demands.

What probably aided in the mobilization of Canadian protesters was the importance of local and provincial targets. In Canada, the province is the level at which legislation, the definitions of who is disabled and therefore eligible for services,15 and funding (for employment, social services and health care) are increasingly decided and at which services are provided. Rioux and Valentine (2006: 48) comment that (even though) "ߪgovernments have enshrined formal equality rights in the Charter and other human rights codes, substantive citizenship rights — especially at the provincial and municipal level — have not been attained in programs and services." This is part of the reason that there were proportionally so many protests related to services.

Additionally, some protests focused upon province-specific scandals. These included the case of the "Duplessis Orphans," who were labeled as being intellectual or mentally disabled and so transferred from orphanages to institutions in Quebec in the 1940's and 1950's (Bailey, 1999) as well as the use of psychiatric patients in Montreal in brainwashing experiments in the 1950's and 60's (Sweet, 1986). (Although these issues may not have resonated with, or been the focus of attention from, the mainstream of the disability movement in Canada, they fit the definition of disability protests being used here.)

Because services are relatively centralized within each province, and because the majority of protests make demands related to services, Canadian protests have not taken on the multiplicity of targets that American protests have. However, given the relative size of the country and the dispersion of the sparse Canadian population, it may have been an advantage to have local or provincially based activism. Even though Kitchin and Wilton (2003) argue that disability activism in Canada should, over time, be "jumping the scale" from the local to the provincial to the federal level, it seems unlikely to happen unless the social structure of disability in Canada changes.


What should we make of these differences? Most generally, the differences are substantial enough that we cannot say that Canadian protests occurred because of American protests or diffused from them. Rather, we can see that the legislative situation, social structural patterns of disability service delivery, and patterns of organizational development have all affected the protest patterns seen in the two countries.

There are not a large number of ties between American and Canadian protests which would suggest that there has been diffusion. Oliver and Myers (2003) note that diffusion can occur along pathways as diverse as college sports events, transportation routes, or through different branches of organizations. However, the latter appears not to have been a route of diffusion in this case, since there appear to be almost no organizational overlaps. There do not appear to have been shared members or networks of activists who are connected across the borders — although this may be changing with the advent of e-mail networks of activists from many countries.

There have only been a few times when American and Canadian protests have overlapped. One occurred because the professional association which the protests were targeting was meeting in Canada. This occurred in 1982, in a protest against the American Psychiatric Association which was having its annual meeting in Toronto. It also occurred in 1988, when ADAPT was protesting against the American Public Transit Association which was meeting in Montreal. However, there is no evidence that this researcher could find of organizational or protest contagion resulting from these "incursions."

Canadian disability protests are not a copy-cat movement; nor are they even a 'spin-off' movement (McAdam, 1995). Protests in Canada have different issues, targets, demands, and timing, and they are fomented by different types of organizations. What has diffused, perhaps, is the idea that disabled people can protest. One instance of this type of diffusion can be seen in the spate of deafness-related protests that occurred in Canada after the Deaf President Now protest in the US. Even then, the specifics of the protests did not diffuse. People with disabilities in Canada "grew their own" movement. The process occurred somewhat in parallel with disability protests in the US and other places around the world, but it was responding to the unique historical, social and cultural circumstances which existed in the past and which to some extent still exist in Canada. Perhaps Canadian disability protests are part of a "movement family" which is expanding around the world or becoming globalized, but they are still indubitably Canadian.


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  1. Social movements exist an extended period of time, can use different tactics, and can be conducted by different groups of activists. Social movements commonly fight on many fronts at the same time. Participants may conduct marches, sit-ins, or strikes at the same time they are involved in lawsuits, voter-registration campaigns, and petition drives.
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  2. The same was true for other conditions such as obesity-they were included only if the issue was disability-related.
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  3. Protests coded as Canadian included one protest by Canadian students at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC.
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  4. Many scholars of social movements argue that media reports substantially under-represent the actual number of protests which occur. McCarthy et al. (1996) showed this by comparing the numbers of protests covered by the media, including both television news programs and newspapers, to numbers of protests for which police permits were obtained. Mueller (1997) and Snyder and Kelly (1977) also argue that newspaper coverage is biased towards more disruptive protests--those which are longer, larger, and more violent. However, many of the protests included here were small, short, and not disruptive.
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  5. See Barnartt and Scotch (2000), Tarrow (1996), and Tilly (1978) for further discussion of these definitions.
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  6. Even though not all laws and policies are rights-related, it was not possible to separate them further.
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  7. The type of impairment demand was not always the same as the type of protesters. For example, if the article referred to "protesters in wheelchairs," even though the issue was related to personal assistance or home health care, the type of impairment was not coded to represent the characteristics of the protesters (mobility impairment) but rather to represent the type of demand being made (cross-disability (affecting people with many or most types of impairments)) .
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  8. Chi-square = 22.2, sig. <.01 level.
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  9. Chi square = 10.9, sig. < .005.
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  10. Chi square = 105.3, sig. < .00001 level.
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  11. Chi square = 30.4, sig. < .00001
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  12. Chi square = 6.9, sig. < .001
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  13. This is not to say that the disability community was not involved in these successes, because they were heavily involved in lobbying (Peters, 2003), but little of the involvement consisted of contentious political action.
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  14. Additionally, there are few if any organizations which have chapters in both the US and Canada. (In one case, Canadian activists considered, and rejected, the possibility of applying to start a chapter of an American organization; they decided to "be Canadian and have an independent organization" ("Strike term…," 1979).)
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  15. These differ substantially by province (Puttee, 2002: 126).
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Copyright (c) 2008 Sharon N. Barnartt

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