NEADS Co-hosts Third Student Leadership Forum in Calgary

Written by Steven Estey

On Thursday, March 25, 1999, NEADS and the University of Calgary Organization, Triple A (Association for Accessibility and Awareness), co-sponsored the third in a series of countrywide NEADS Student Leadership Forums.

Approximately 30 students with disabilities came together at the University of Calgary to discuss issues of student organizing, and how to improve communication between NEADS and campus-based groups of students with disabilities.

The Forum began with a panel discussion, chaired by NEADS vice-president external, Chris Rebus. Panel members included Kent Hehr, NEADS' past president, Rick Goodfellow, executive director of the local Independent Living Centre, Barry Lindemann, a recent University of Calgary graduate and current Canadian Paraplegic Association (CPA) community affairs consultant, and myself, Steve Estey. I am the project consultant to NEADS' Student Leadership Initiative.

Panelists shared their experience of working with organizations that are active at both the local and national levels; this is the case for the Canadian Association for Independent Living (CAILC) and CPA. In addition, past-president Kent Hehr discussed what NEADS does, and how that relates to the activities of the Triple A group.

One of the main themes of the panel discussion was that improving communication links between Canada's disability organizations can increase the ease by which these organizations work together. Speakers gave examples of how new technology, like Internet chat facilities and listservs, are being used to improve ease of communication and at the same time reduce costs. They noted the multiple benefits of increased communication, in terms of improved job performance and more democratic decision-making processes.

With the panel discussion as an introduction to the issues at hand, participants moved into smaller groups. From there, delegates talked about their concerns at the U of C campus, what sorts of things they want to see NEADS involved with in the future, and how the two organizations could work together more effectively.

Many good ideas were brought up over the course of this discussion. They have all been recorded and will be included in the final report on all the leadership forums held, to be completed in early 2000 and presented to the NEADS Board of Directors. In the meantime, a few highlights of the discussion are presented below for your information.

Five main areas of concern for students with disabilities were identified:

  • Access to sufficient financial aid
  • Physical accessibility on the campus
  • Discrimination based on disability
  • Transportation both to the campus and around the campus
  • Faculty awareness of disability issues - especially for people with hidden disabilities.

The discussions covered three different topic areas: things the Triple A group could be doing on campus; what other local groups the organization should be working with; and how to improve the relationship with NEADS.

In terms of things the Triple A group should consider, the following items were key suggestions:

  • Membership - efforts should be made to encourage more people to join Triple A. In the past this has been acheived through an orientation given at the beginning of the school year by the Disability Resource Center. Membership could be further encouraged, for example, during the orientation for new students given by the Students' Union.
  • Advocacy - for improved quality of life on campus, including things like advance registration for students with disabilities, more accessible residences and more accessible parking. Another interesting suggestion was to have a general assistant available on a drop-in basis, to provide personal support to help students advocate for themselves.
  • Networking - another idea was to connect campus groups with organizations like NEADS. That would allow Triple A to learn about resources offered by other organizations and be able to use them if appropriate.
  • Public Awareness - education campaigns should be targeted at the larger community to promote awareness of disabilities, and the importance of inclusion and accommodation.

When the discussion moved to linking with other local groups, participants identified the following areas for future work on the University of Calgary's campus:

  • Student Government - the Triple A should try to have a representative on the students' union, in order to talk about disabled students' concerns. The students' union is now considering adding a VP external position to the executive for this purpose.
  • Campus Committees - within the students' union there are disability-related committees that already exist, which the Triple A could become involved in. For example, the students' union accessibility levy committees dealing with accessibility levies, and new construction on the campus.
  • Community Groups - groups from the community, like the CNIB or CPA, could come and give talks about the activities and support they can offer students with disabilities.
  • Local Conference - some suggested that The Triple A could work in conjunction with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and Mount Royal College in Calgary, to sponsor a disability awareness day or student disability conference.

Finally there were some interesting ideas on how the relationship between the University of Calgary and NEADS could be improved. Among the suggestions were the following:

  • Faculty, staff and students need to know what NEADS is, and what it does. This can be accomplished through pamphlets, newsletters, and the Internet.
  • NEADS could be a clearing house of information on funding available at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, to bring all information together in one place.
  • NEADS could also be in contact with service providers at various institutions to find out what services they offer, and to possibly provide information to those institutions about what additional services might be appropriate across Canada.
  • Join Triple A and NEADS membership fees; so, when you join Triple A, you automatically join NEADS as well.
  • NEADS could collect anecdotal information on the experiences of students with disabilities, so others can learn from them.

As you can see, there were plenty of good ideas and interesting discussions in Calgary that day. This sort of dialogue is part of NEADS' ongoing effort to support work at the campus level in Canadian schools. The final report on the Association's leadership forums will outline ways in which the NEADS can continue to support campus organizations and strengthen these organizations' ties to students with disabilities across Canada.

If your organization is interested in co-sponsoring a Student Leadership Forum with NEADS, please contact the national office in Ottawa.