By Erin Douglas, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy

Dr. Keiko Shikako-Thomas first thought about the meaning of participation when she witnessed first-hand Special Olympics athletes working hard, and engaging and participating fully in their activities. Watching these events got her thinking how to connect this level of engagement and participation to the everyday community life of children with disabilities in Canada.

Now an Assistant Professor at McGill’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy (SPOT), Dr. Shikako-Thomas’s research explores this topic in greater depth, examining the ways we can respect the rights of the 14% of Canadian children with disabilities and their families to participate and engage in their communities and using this research to help directly build policies to develop inclusive communities.

Earlier this year, Dr. Shikako-Thomas traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to participate in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD uses civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights to help protect and promote the human rights of persons with disabilities. These rights are reflected in policies, such as anti-discrimination in the workplace, which allow persons with disabilities to enjoy a barrier-free workplace.

As a representative for the Canadian Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), at the meeting Dr. Shikako-Thomas presented the Canadian perspectives and positions on the status of children with disabilities, focusing on participation and community engagement. Drawing on her own expertise, together with the other delegates she provided information constituting the parallel report to the first Canadian government reporting on the implementation and advances on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Canada.

The convention served as a forum to discuss and compare international policies and provided the opportunity to see how Canada is serving and responding to the needs of children with disabilities. Canada’s implementation of the CRPD was reviewed for the first time, a process that included discussion, presentations, and questions and answers. In the coming months, the CRPD will release a report of recommendations and concluding observations from the meeting, and Dr. Shikako-Thomas expects this will support the development of new programs for children and families in the upcoming years. She will use these points to guide her research programs, fostering collaborations with different stakeholders and informing policies and outcomes for a more inclusive Canada.

One challenge that Dr. Shikako-Thomas and her team are actively working to solve is how to connect children and their families to programs and activities that already exist in their communities, programs that they may not be aware of. This led to the team developing an app, known as JOOAY!, which is available in the Apple Store and on Google Play. The app helps connect children by listing and mapping out existing resources to make the information readily available to them and their families.

With regards to her research program and her participation in the UN convention, Dr. Shikako-Thomas says that “these opportunities make me feel that our research has a relevance and that we can make a difference in contributing for these families at a national and international level, so that children can have better lives, they can be happier, and families can also enjoy a better quality of life and well-being.”

Dr. Shikako-Thomas contributes to a blog for the CRPD, which can be read here:

More information about the JOOAY App can be found at:

More information on current SPOT research can be found at:

Watch this video to learn more about Dr. Shikako-Thomas and her research.

August 3, 2017