Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Two-day accessibility gathering at StFX looks to learn from the past and plan for the future

August 29th, 2019
Graphic recording and facilitation at the event was provided by Mo Drescher from BraveSpace

A recent two-day gathering on the StFX campus explored questions of disability, access, equity and education from diverse perspectives in the interest of creating and sustaining welcoming and equitable communities. 

On Aug. 26th and 27th over 100 people from universities, community, government and the general public gathered at StFX’s Keating Centre for a community-university bridging event, "Disability, Access, Equity and Education: Creating Welcoming Communities."

The aim of the event was connection—coming together to learn about what is happening, and not happening, explore shared assets and resources, nourish a sense of curiosity and collectively imagine the possibilities for collaboration across sectors within rural Atlantic Canada.

The event was co-hosted by the Spatializing Care: Intersectional Disability Studies Lab at StFX in partnership with the Centre for Employment Innovation, StFX Extension Department, and StFX Faculty Development Committee, with support from a Jules Leger Award for development in pedagogical and administrative leadership.

“This is a very important time in Nova Scotia,” says Dr. Katie Aubrecht, Canada Research Chair Health Equity & Social Justice at StFX and director of the Spatializing Care Lab.

“Nova Scotia is embarking on new accessibility legislation. There is evidence to suggest progress where such provincial legislation has been enacted, but there are also lessons learned about challenges. We are in the privileged position to reflect on those lessons and have them inform action. Provincial changes are happening in relation with the Accessible Canada Act and at the same time as there is increasing attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). There are also changes happening within institutions. In Canadian universities, the Dimensions Program and Charter is mobilizing culture change in research and knowledge production through new equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives. All of this movement suggests a window may be open and an opportunity presented to participate in and shape discussions and directions, and define the issues.”

Dulcie McCallum, Special Advisor on the Official Canadian Delegation for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), speaks at the gathering.

ENGAGING DISCOURSE

Event organizers noted exciting work is happening here in our communities, but it’s not always easy to find out what is happening. They say there are not well-known cross-community, cross-institutional and cross-sectoral platforms to share knowledge and engage accessibility issues.  

The two days of the event were active and saw attendees engaged in conversations, presentations, workshops and panel discussions focused on disability, access, equity and inclusion. 

Jess Popp of the Centre for Employment Innovation at StFX said highlights for her included the engaging discourse that happened over the two days. “People were leaning in to uncomfortable topics and questions, challenging their own practices and beliefs, and doing so with the utmost respect and passion. All aimed at exploring how we might create and sustain more equitable and accessible spaces across our communities,” she said.

“The gathering was an important reminder that we live in a complex world, and that intersections of identity preclude a single path forward but rather inspire many avenues of possibility. Unique approaches to supporting individuals is key through meaningful engagement, relationships and reciprocity.”

She says as system partners, the Centre for Employment Innovation has been collectively exploring questions similar to those that were proposed over the past two days, “in order to understand how best to support our communities amidst a changing world of work. This opportunity to come together to learn, discuss our successes and our challenges, and create deeper relationships will be of immense value as we work collectively and collaboratively across sectors towards Moses Coady’s vision of ‘a full and abundant life for all.’”

COMMUNITY INITIATIVES 

Organizers say discussions highlighted the need to include culture in conversations about accessibility, and to include changes in thinking, relationships and attitudes alongside of the need for changes to the built environment and technology. Graphic recording and facilitation was provided by Mo Drescher from BraveSpace, who captured conversations on a giant mural. Arts was also featured by local artist Anne Camozzi.

During the event, participants shared a meal prepared by the Canadian Association of Community Living (CACL) Antigonish, watched a performance of the Park Bench Players and heard from local accessibility champions Jeff Teasdale, Jim Mulcahy and Verna MacDonald.

Participants also heard about community-led and driven initiatives from representatives from Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!), Culture Alive Antigonish, Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library, X-Project, Delmore Buddy Day Learning Institute, African Descent Student Affairs at StFX., L’Arche, and Mawita’mk, We’koqma’q First Nation. 

In the closing plenary, County Councillor Gary Mattie shared his personal journey and discussed the importance of understanding accessibility as an opportunity to support people and communities in growing and thriving. Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher shared actions and directions by the town. Special Advisor to Canada’s Delegation to the United Nations CRPD Dulcie McCallum talked about the importance of thinking about accessibility as a human rights issue. Senator Mary Coyle described the Accessible Canada Act and the value of a culture of inclusion where all people can enjoy the full rights of citizenship. Steve Estey, chair of the International Committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and a StFX graduate described the need to think about how accessibility looks different outside of city centres. 

While the event was considered a success, organizers noted there are areas for improvement, saying even when we think things are accessible and inclusive, they may not be and we need to be ready and willing to recognize when something is not right and make necessary changes. It’s hoped this will be the first gathering among many to come, they say.

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