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When I Felt Truly Included as a Person With a Disability

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The week of March 8, 2017, I was in Ottawa taking part in Equal Voice’s initiative Daughters of the Vote. The initiative was in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first few women getting the right to vote in Canadian Federal elections. 338 women between the ages of 18-23 came from each federal riding and took their seat in the House of Commons. There were more women sitting in the House then have ever been elected in Canadian history, there were more indigenous people sitting the House then have ever been elected in Canadian history and there were more Muslims sitting in the House then have ever been elected in Canadian history.  We broke all the records that day.

That day I gave a speech. I said that my education and my future, and the education and future of my closest friends, was jeopardized because we are disabled. I said there needs to be more for funding for proper accommodations so the things that happened to me as a kid, and are still happening to me, don’t happen to anyone else in the future. I spoke of how people with disabilities have every right to an education as our abled counterparts. I said all of this on National Television in front of Members of Parliament, the first female Prime Minister of Canada and many other respected and powerful political figures.

We wanted things to change. We had enough of the societal norms we encountered on a regular basis. I am so proud of my sisters who stood that day; they stood with me and I will stand with them.

I met the most powerful, strong and wonderful women that week. We know what we stand for, we will fight for it, and we won’t let prejudicial societal rules stop us. Those 337 women have special place in my heart and that week will be one of my favorite weeks in my whole life.

But before we took a seat, then took a stand, we had to march from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to Parliament Hill. That’s a solid 7-minute walk and with that many people for that long of a walk, I was bound to be left behind. I had gotten used to it so it didn’t concern me a whole lot, but something interesting happened that I wasn’t expecting. My friends from university pushed my wheelchair the whole way.

When there’s a large group of people  at the House of Commons, you always take a picture at a set of steps, which was exactly what happened that Wednesday. When the picture was taken, everyone else headed up the stairs — but if you’re in a wheelchair, you need to go back down the hill then go up and around on the road. It’s not at all convenient, and a long way out of the way.

I expected my one friend who was pushing me to help me up the hill, but that’s not what happened. All of the delegates from my university came with me. For the first time in 22 years, I wasn’t left behind. I wasn’t told: “Find us when you get there.” It wasn’t just me and whoever was in charge of me going the accessible way. For once I was told, “You’re one of us, and we aren’t going to leave you behind.” So seven women walked with me to the accessible way into the House of Commons.

When my friend who was pushing my chair started back down the hill towards the road to get to the entrance, another delegate from my university asked where we were going. Once we explained, the seven women from my school walked away from the rest of the delegates so we could stick together. There were no questions, no protesting, just the simple idea that we stick together.

That day I wasn’t left behind, and that made all the difference.

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Originally published: January 15, 2018
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