By Julia Vit
The room held a combination of teary-eyed, speechless students — others were beaming. All eyes were set on the performer, who held nothing back.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha took the stage at the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) Disability Poetry Slam on Sept. 9. She fights a war where society’s disregard for disability is the opponent. Through her poetry performance, she invited the audience to experience what it’s like to live with a disability.
“Political justice for the disabled is not defined where we are put on the margins of our communities, it’s where we are put in the centre,” said Piepzna-Samarasinha. “We are not an afterthought… we shouldn’t have to hide parts of ourselves … so that others are comfortable.”
The Disability Poetry Slam event was created by Pascale Diverlus, RSU vice-president of equity. She said it’s critical for the community to gain knowledge on the topic.
“Students with disabilities shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about having needs while living in an inaccessible world,” said Diverlus.
Having access to resources is a continuing issue for students with disabilities. Piepzna-Samarasinha recalls a time on tour when the event manager did not acknowledge that she could not get up on stage without a ramp or any other help. She said she had to perform on the floor instead.
“Rather than just showing a power-point on disability and its effects, performance arts is the best way to emotionally impact an audience and it allows people in similar situations to more deeply connect with my story and words,” said Piepzna-Samarasinha.
Prescylla Mizinga, a first-year journalism student who attended the event, said that the Disability Poetry Slam related to her own life.
“Even though I am not personally affected by disability, I could still find a common ground with what Leah was saying about self-acceptance and equality,” said Mizinga. “No matter how ‘different’ you are, everyone deserves equal treatment.”
Piepzna-Samarasinha said she identifies herself as a disabled, queer educator and social-activist.
“We’re changing the way that society holds control over desirability, relationships, love, self-acceptance and even what sex looks like,” she said
As Piepzna-Samarasinha finished her performance, the audience snapped and clapped.
“We, the disabled, the crazy, the queer — have all kissed the inner lip of the gun of trauma,” said Piepzna-Samarasinha. “We are my favourite poem — I love us.”