It was a busy two days for the conference rooms in St. F.X’s Keating Centre, Aug. 26 and 27, as the space hosted the event – Disability, Access, Equity and Education: Creating Welcoming Communities.
The goals of the event were to “share knowledge, inspire curiosity and develop meaningful relationships among people and groups in the interest of creating and sustaining equitable and welcoming communities,” promotional material read.
“The program includes activities designed to stimulate conversation and creative approaches to disability and difference in university, education, work and community settings. Conversations will encourage consideration of disability in all its diversity, and will be guided by invited leaders from across the Atlantic region and Central and Western Canada. This will provide a foundation for a network connecting universities, organizations and communities.”
The jammed-packed event included activities such as workshops and oral presentations on; unpacking intersectionality, accessible environments, reimagining inclusion in classrooms and communities, and welcoming communities and relation to bodies.
Circle conversations were on topics such as; disability and disruption in higher education, and equitable community relations.
Panels were a big part of the event and covered topics such as: disability and equity at St. F.X., and community collaboration, which wrapped up the event and featured amongst its speakers Canadian Senator Mary Coyle, Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher, Municipality of the County of Antigonish councillor Gary Mattie, Dulcie McCallum who was a special advisor Canada’s official delegation for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Steve Estey who was Canada’s official NGO delegate for the same convention and is a member of the Council for Canadians with Disabilities.
Mattie talked about the motorcycle accident he was in at the age of 17, the injuries he suffered and his life now as a person who gets around through use of a wheelchair.
He talked about the advances, the cooperation and the work that still needs to be done.
“I thought it went very well,” he said, regarding the panel discussion he participated in.
“My biggest message was, as we move forward in the town and county, we take the opportunity to not only look at the issues people talk about, but I also hope people, who have mobility issues or any issues really in regards to accessibility for that matter, speak up a little bit more,” he said. “There is the old saying about not being able to fix something if you don’t know what the problem is.
“We do have a lot of problems we know about, but the idea of having an [accessibility] committee here for the town is to hear from the public. With the public involved, again, it makes it that much better for the future.”
As for the event on the whole, Mattie said it’s about “education.”
“The more people know,” he said, adding that with an aging population in the area, accessibility will only grow in importance.
McCallum said it was “exciting” St. F.X. had “pulled together” the two-day event.
“Made it free which, in a way, makes it accessible; and invited people from all levels of government and community to the university, and people from different universities from all over Nova Scotia,” she said. “And turned their attention to disability, but seeing it in the light of inclusiveness; creating welcoming communities that will invite people with disabilities, indigenous and other marginalized groups who live on the edge.”
With the mic in hand, McCallum told a couple of difficult to hear stories from her work experience. She said testimonials like those need to be shared, so people can appreciate where and why there is still a lot of work to do.
“If you’re trying to look at social change, whether it’s creating new legislation like the Accessibility Act, or the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; when you try and create a law which is part of that social change, that it’s crafted in such a way that takes into account real stories about real people lives … not just in some academic or theoretical sense.”
Estey, a St. F.X. alum, talked about the importance of institutions, such as St. F.X., which are set in rural locations.
“The point I was trying to make on the panel was that institutions, like St. F.X., have a potentially unique contribution to make in the area of disability studies,” Estey said. “Because most disability studies take place in urban environments, but because it’s situated in a small town in Nova Scotia, the issues that people with disabilities deal with are different than what they are for people with disabilities in big cities.”
Coyle and Boucher talked thoroughly about work their levels of government are doing to address the needs around accessibility.
Haileigh Robb, who graduated last spring from St. F.X.’s human nutrition program, talked about taking in the various activities.
“I’m in the process of becoming a dietician, so I’m going into the healthcare profession, and this is good way to hear about other people’s experiences in thinking about access around communities and the work communities are doing. In regards to accessibility, but also equity, which is important in healthcare as well,” Robb said.
St. F.X. human kinetics student Liam Saxon was part of a presentation on the sledge hockey program at St. F.X.
“I’m also learning through other people’s presentations,” he said. “You gain a lot of insight on what is going on in other communities, other schools, and university settings. And around issues like mental health; not just around physical disabilities but also intellectual.”