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Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital: The Best Hospital No One Has Heard Of


“I don’t think I felt, really, shame about my disability. What I felt more was exclusion.”

–Judith Heumann,

Crip Camp (Netflix)


In the past century, we have seen more progress in social justice beyond anything we have seen throughout human history. We are seeing these changes unfold by who is represented in the workforce, in the media, in our leaders, and in our communities. Inclusivity has become an important moral aspiration of our society and doing so has required a conscious effort and commitment towards change.


Did you know 22% of Canadians have a mental or physical disability? And, did you know, nearly 50% of discrimination complaints heard by the human rights commissions in Canada are disability related, particularly in regards to employment? The Disability Rights Movement began in the mid-20th century and continues on today, as advocates and allies alike ask for equal opportunity of people with disabilities. They have been rallying to get the government to enact policies and legislation for inclusivity in employment, transportation, education, and housing. If we are to embrace diversity in Canada, it is critical that we end the stigma and discrimination, and work with organizations that promote a level playing field for these groups.


Creating a World of Possibility


Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital is Canada’s largest children’s rehabilitation hospital and they are committed to fighting for change for kids with disabilities. They provide care to over 8,000 kids per year who have autism, cerebral palsy, acquired brain injuries, limb differences, epilepsy, concussions, and other medical complexities. They are a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine and have collaborative partnerships with other major Toronto hospitals like Sunnybrook and SickKids. The Bloorview Research Institute is the research arm of the hospital and is recognized worldwide as a leader in childhood disability research with its 43 scientists, two Canada Research Chairs, and 88 peer reviewed publications.

We spoke with Sandra Hawken, President & Chief Executive Officer at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation about her story, organizational achievements, and Holland Bloorview’s initiatives.


In 2016, Holland Bloorview launched their Dear Everybody Campaign which was co-created with kids with disabilities. Its main objective is to reduce disability stigma and increase representation of people with disabilities in the media. Dear Everybody does not offer a monetary gain but rather a significant, long-lasting, system-wide, cultural change. Since launching, the campaign has garnered the attention of major Canadian media producers, including Rogers, CBC, and Bell, who have all signed on and pledged to increase the representation of people with disabilities on-screen.


“When an entire population is absent from the visual landscape of mass media that so many of us consume, then they are also absent from our imagination, and who we consider to be potential friends, partners, employees, or leaders.”

- Sandra Hawken, President & CEO

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation


Committing to a More Equitable Community


In 2020, Holland Bloorview has taken their dedication to social justice a step further, by being one of the first charitable organizations to commit to a concrete anti-racism and anti-oppression plan that was created by staff. They recently signed the Black North Initiative, which promises to increase representation and diversity among their Board of Directors. They have also developed a library of resources and provided two paid hours a month for staff to take the time to educate themselves on inclusivity, unconscious bias, and racial diversity. Finally, they launched the staff-led IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) task force to ensure that all employees feel heard, while shining a light on the intersectionality of racism and health, equity, and access. All of these efforts reflect Holland Bloorview’s unique role as a healthcare institution and a social driver of change devoted to making the world a more inclusive place for all.


How do we apply the lessons we have learned from the racial equity movement to the disability movement? Sandra had some valuable advice that we just had to share.


“There's a lot of value that people with disabilities can add as employees, as leaders, as friends, as partners, and as change makers. I think that the biggest thing that people can do is to be open to changing those attitudes in the same way that the whole community seems to be increasingly engaged in learning and challenging their own unconscious bias about racism. It's time to do the same thing about ableism, both in terms of the physical spaces that we build and occupy, but also in the mental spaces that we build and occupy.”

- Sandra Hawken, President & CEO

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation


Building an Inclusive Society Where Everybody Belongs


Being committed to change means increasing your openness and awareness to situations you encounter. People with disabilities are people and want to be treated like full members of our community. Looking away and avoiding eye contact with someone who uses a mobility device can increase their feelings of otherness and make them feel invisible. Sandra refers to Holland Bloorview as “the very best hospital no one has heard of,” and that is partly due to the fact that they work with a group of kids that aren’t on everyone’s radar. These aren’t the kids that typically win their battles and have heroic stories, but rather have to learn to live their life the best they can with what they have been handed. Holland Bloorview’s impact is unignorable and they have opened many more doors and possibilities for these kids.


To expand their net of impact, Holland Bloorview is currently in growth mode and have created a five-year plan to double the annual fundraising of the foundation. It is only through the generosity and support of the community that the hospital can continue to fund its unique clinical care practices and services; offer recreational activities to help foster friendships within kids with disabilities; educate and train the next generation of healthcare professionals; and, all the while, fund groundbreaking research studies and technologies to assist children within Holland Bloorview’s walls and beyond.

The Dear Everybody Campaign, and the caliber of its corporate partnerships, has initiated the momentum needed to meet this goal—but they can still use your help to contribute and raise awareness for the cause. One of the most valuable things you can do is to start the conversation. We hope that together, we can put Holland Bloorview in the spotlight so that they are no longer “the best hospital that no one has heard of.”


If you felt inspired by this article, please consider getting involved in one of the following ways:


1. Spread the Holiday Joy and Donate

2. Volunteer

3. Sign the Dear Everybody agreement

4. Advocate for and learn more about people with disabilities in Canada

5. Follow them on social media to hear about their ongoing work:

· Instagram: @hollandbloorview

· Facebook: @HBKRH

· Twitter: @HBKidsHospital

· Linkedin: Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

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