“I understood that people had learning disabilities, but I never knew what these people were going through until now,” said Nancy Estrela, commenting on an exercise given during last week’s human rights workshop on accessibility at Concordia.
Estrela, along with other students attended a workshop hosted by the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) entitled ‘Succeeding Against the Odds’ to learn about the rights and freedoms accorded to disabled people within Quebec.
Sponsored by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) Advocacy Center, and Access Concordia, the goal of the workshop was to ensure “students know what their rights are, understood them, and how to exercise them,” said Teri-Lee Walters, president of Access Concordia.
The workshop began with an exercise where participants struggled to read jumbled sentences, while pressured by the facilitator. The purpose was to demonstrate the difficulty, and prejudices which students with learning disabilities face in the classroom.
“I have a physical disability,” says Walters.
“I know what it is like to get frustrated with a building that’s not accessible, doing the reading exercise was frustrating, I felt helpless and belittled.”
Hosted by Shirley Sarna of the QHRC, the workshop educated students about their rights, including responsibility, discrimination and legal recourse.
Participants examined the legal definitions regarding their status, and the importance of taking responsibility “to make their needs known, and saying ‘This is who I am, this is what I need,'” explained Sarna.
The discussion also focused on the notion of palliative care, meaning anything that would facilitate a person’s disability. “By preventing a hearing impaired person from bringing a cassette-recorder to class, you are effectively saying ‘I’m sorry, I can’t allow your ears into the classroom,'” says Sarna.
“Teachers need to recognize they are teaching a heterogeneous classroom, and students cope with situations differently…otherwise students end up feeling marginalized, and humiliated, resulting in being turned off from learning,” emphasized Sarna.
Furthermore, Sarna stressed people need to realize “when we talk about equality amongst individuals, we are not talking about treating everyone equal, we’re talking about equal opportunity and equal access.”
Sarna’s dedication and passion on the subject was equally matched by the participants, especially concerning learning disabilities, such as Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder.
“Students who have learning disabilities are not eligible for funding from the government,” explained Jean-Marc Bouchard, director of the CSU Advocacy Center.
“I consider that discrimination,” he added.
The CSU Advocacy Center wants to encourage students with learning disabilities to come forward, and file a complaint. “If enough students come forward, we may have grounds for further investigation into the Quebec government’s behaviour,” said Bouchard.
By the end, participants found the workshop “…very informative, interesting, and delightful,” said Estrela.
“She [Sarna] really empathizes with the issues and concerns of her audience, and we look forward to future workshops, with more student participation,” explains Walters.
Now that the ground work has been laid, the CSU Advocacy Center, and Access Concordia hope to gain more support by continuing to inform students, and encouraging them to speak out.
For more information, you can contact Access Concordia at [email protected] or the CSU Advocacy Center at 848-2424 ext. 7461 or call the Quebec Human Rights Commission at 873-5146.