Written by Jeremy Steinhausen
Following Disabilities Week at Brock, I met up again with Keely, Alanna, and Jessica (if you have not read our pre-Disabilities Week conversation, do so here. In this second part, we continue our conversation on disabilities and how ABLE looks to help continue to foster an inclusive and accessible environment for all students.
Jeremy: How do you feel your first social media campaign has impacted students?
Keely: It’s been hard for people to participate because they aren’t sure how to respond to our first social media event. We do have support from departments like Applied Health Science, Child and Youth, and there are others that support us. It really is about getting down our first events to give us a boost in the perception people have for ABLE to be a legitimate voice for disabled students.
Jessica: The fact that some people think you need a disability to support a club about disabilities is a misconception. It isn’t true; just because you support someone with a disability doesn’t mean you also have to have one.
Alanna: It really is bringing awareness to this stigma, like “I don’t have a disability yet I am part of this club advocating for these people because I really can’t imagine what my life would be like with a mental or physical disability. I think they are so strong for doing this, they need support from everyone.”
Jeremy: Going by the survey, how does it make you feel, hearing that many students believe that Ontario will be accessible by 2025?
Keely: People have different perceptions of what it means to have a disability. Some people who answered “probably” didn’t have a physical disability which our survey was focused on.
Alanna: It’s really hard to tackle some of these issues because they are like inter-generational problems. People just aren’t able to see the changes that are needed. Like adults really aren’t able to relate to students and kids, and I feel the same things apply to disabilities. In order to truly understand it you have to talk to them and try and see things from their perspective.
Jeremy: What are some long term issues which Brock might be able to address?
Keely: Educating faculty and other employees who interact with the student population. They need a full couple [of] days on how to work with people with disabilities and adapt to different situations. I find too often that it is simply a matter of people not knowing and not knowing how to react.
Jessica: For me its communication. Talking to students and finding out what they need to do. The problem is that some of the larger issues can’t be addressed until renovations happen like in residence. Something which ABLE is looking to do next year is to improve communication between students, and the school’s maintenance. If someone like [me] (who uses a wheelchair) wants to go to the gym and the elevator is broken, then there should be some way for [me] to find out before getting there and its not working.
Keely: [Developing] An online feedback option or even something at the front desk. I feel like online you know it gets to the right people and it puts a name to the feedback. Knowing what needs to be done to make sure the services they provided are working and maintained. If students are able to file reports hopefully it will put more onus on the University to fix it.
Jeremy: How can ABLE increase the usefulness of awareness in the coming years?
Keely: It really stems from taking what people are saying and turning it into action and knowing who to go to. Being able to partner with the right people and have conversations like the one we are having right now; it’s all about working together. No one is able to do it on their own so they might as well stop trying. We need to partner up and get involved, because more opportunities will come from getting involved, allowing us to keep growing.
Jessica: I think a big thing is getting students to want to be educated and want to find support. Most people who aren’t affected don’t see a need to educate themselves and this just perpetuates the problem. They need to be more aware so they know to be supportive and from this we will have more ways to support the people who need it. I think ABLE will grow this way by creating a network of support.
Keely: Students need to see things with a different perspective, put themselves in other shoes. Alanna is an example of how you don’t have to have a disability to be part of the conversation.
Alanna: It’s been really eye opening, I do learn about disabilities in my classes but nothing compares to the stories which Keely and Jessica tell me. Every day you have to look at things differently to be able to try and understand how different it is to function on a daily basis with a disability.
Keely: It’s one thing to see me with a guide dog, but controlling my guide dog isn’t just holding onto the harness and magically she takes me places; there is so much more to it than that and people need to understand that.
Jessica: We had an education professor who said disabilities are visual and I completely disagree with that statement, there are invisible disabilities. For a prof to say this I felt like they weren’t treating everyone equally at face value because there can be disabilities they can’t see and they might judge [students] wrongly because of it. In order to properly address all of these issues we need to be inclusive of everyone with disabilities, physical and invisible.
I really appreciated the time Keely, Jessica, and Alanna took to discuss ABLE’s advocacy with me. I would like to thank them and encourage other students to get involved. To learn more about what ABLE is currently doing and planning for the future, visit them on their Facebook page.
OUSA also recently released an updated version of our Students with Disabilities policy paper which you can read here.