By Jake Kivanc
Reclaiming Our Minds and Bodies, Intermingling Disabilty Communities a RyeACCESS community conference that has been hosted on campus for the last three years, ran from Friday to Sunday and aimed to draw attention to awareness and activism around issues of access and disabilities.
Although something that was normally exclusive to Ryerson since 2012, this year’s events were held on both Ryerson and UofT campuses, as well as the 519 Community Centre on Church Street. Organizers this year also included George Brown College and York University.
Speaking to the goal of this year’s expansion, third-year journalism student and organizer Al Donato said the hope was to make the conference “as accessible as possible.”
“We really wanted to bring more awareness to student disability culture and to do that we had to think outside the mainstream idea of disability. Every base needs to be covered” she said.
And accessible it was: held at the Student Campus Centre, the conference was fully equipped with brochures in text, braille, auditory and digital format, as well as having volunteers on hand familiar with ASL and projectors that broadcast closed-captioning stenography of the conference. There were also numerous other forms of accommodation, such as gender-neutral bathrooms and a lunch bar dedicated to fulfilling all types of dietary needs.
While guests were asked to sign in, Donato noted that this year’s event was opened to anyone who wished to come and that there would be no discrimination based on employment, place of education or status within the disabled community. Attendance to the event was also free of charge, a point she said was important in order to bring the community together.
“There are not a lot of disability spaces,” she said. “We have events celebrating gender, race, sexuality, but there’s not really anything celebrating disability where people can come together, occupying the same space, to come up with great ideas and not be labeled.”
John Rae, a long-time activist and proponent for the disabled community, addressed the issue of labelling and how disabled people are often defined by their condition negatively.
“Our lives tend to be viewed in a negative light, we don’t tend to be valued,” he said. “Having a disability does create certain barriers. Yes, it does. But there’s this notion that our lives aren’t worth living and that’s a pile of crap.”
Mary Rose, an attendee of the event whose name has been altered per her request, said that the way in which disabled people are singled out in society is a big issue.
“Unlike other places, I feel safe here, because people are inclusive and willing to recognize me as someone who is capable outside of my limitations,” she said.
Donato said that while there are many different mindsets within and outside the community, it is important to hear them all.
“There are many understandings within disability communities, it’s not all one perspective,” she said. “We really want to give exposure to all lenses and ways of interpreting disability. People need to see that the disabled are not the narrative they have been carved into.”