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“Dear Everybody, Just because someone doesn’t speak the way you do, doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to say,” reads an open letter online.

Anyone with a disability might speak, look or act differently from someone without one, but that doesn’t mean they deserve to be judged harshly.

The Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto is now fighting to eliminate the stigma surrounding disabilities through a new, five-year campaign called “Dear Everybody.”

Essentially, the campaign aims to make everyone aware of what people with disabilities deal with regarding employment, bullying, friendship, education and health care. And it’s all being captured through the words and experiences of youths that actually have disabilities.

Campaign Ambassador Maddy Hearne, for instance, had to wear sunglasses and ear plugs to school after having six concussions.

“I looked different and the kids thought I was crazy and they wouldn’t talk to me just because of how I looked and what accommodations I had,” she said.

And 17-year-old Jadine Baldwin doesn’t only need to deal with her cerebral palsy on a daily basis — she also needs to deal with stigma: “When people see me, they just see a chair and don’t realize that I have a brain and can say things and have feelings.”

Perhaps we’re all a little guilty of perpetuating this stigma — you might stare a little, ask the wrong question or just not take the time to get to know someone. But if you don’t know how to properly support someone with a disability, the Dear Everybody website offers helpful informational packages for parents, friends, employers, health care providers and educators.

It’s important that Canadians strive to make those who don’t fit into the cookie-cutter shape of a ‘normal’ person feel included. After all, as the Dear Everybody website states, “there’s no such thing as normal.”

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