It may surprise many Canadians to learn that traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability for Canadians under the age of 40.
Falling through the cracks
“One of the things that make having a brain injury especially challenging is that it’s generally an invisible disability,” explains Melissa Vigar, Executive Director of Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST). “A lot of times a brain injury isn’t apparent, so you might be talking with someone with cognitive issues and not realize it. This can make it more difficult to know when help is needed. People with brain injuries show a wide variety of symptoms like memory impairment, communication difficulties, and trouble processing language, and many also find it a struggle just to plan out their day.”
Vigar also points out that few Canadians realize the devastating effects a brain injury can have on someone’s life. “For example, there are some studies that have shown that about 50 percent of the homeless population in Toronto have brain injuries. There was one study that found around 87 percent of those brain injuries occurred before a person became homeless. Those studies really show how dramatically someone’s life can change once they’ve had a brain injury. Things are even worse when the injury isn’t diagnosed because then the person won’t know to access the services that could help them, so they can really fall between the cracks very quickly.”
A lot of times a brain injury isn’t apparent, so you might be talking with someone with cognitive issues and not realize it.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the struggles people with brain injuries face. “People with cognitive and physical challenges have had increased difficulty accessing their community, including vital supports and services,” says Vigar. “Something as simple as standing in line for groceries can be difficult when you have a brain injury because you often fatigue quickly. Because a brain injury is an invisible disability, people suffering from the disability are questioned if they need to use the hours that some stores have specially set aside for seniors or persons with disabilities. At BIST we have had to write letters for our members, justifying their need to access the stores during these hours, as they’re sometimes unsuccessful in advocating for themselves in these situations.”
How technology and organizations can help
Luckily, certain technological advances have gone far to make life easier and communities more accessible to people with brain injuries. “Smartphones have been a godsend for individuals with brain impairments,” says Vigar. “Many with brain injuries experience memory impairment. Smartphones make it incredibly easy to organize their lives and to set up alarms throughout the day to remind them about things like appointments, to take medication, and to not forget their transit pass. Technology has been vital in helping people with brain injuries lead more independent and fulfilling lives.”
While technology is a big help, Vigar emphasizes that businesses and organizations can also make a significant contribution to the disabled community in a variety of ways. “Any support a person or corporation could provide to non-profit organizations in the form of monetary or product donations, or volunteer hours, is always appreciated. In some cases, this help can be vital to the non-profit’s very existence. Sponsorship of events or program spaces and donations of essential products, such as assistive technology, can go far to create a more inclusive environment.”