Ontario youth gets clearer on inclusion question
It’s about philosophy and daily choices more than programs, says Kelsey Hunter
Friday July 13, 2012 -- Michelle Strutzenberger
Kelsey Marina Hunter remembers feeling a sense of discomfort when she saw how people who have a disability were placed in her high school and community, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on the problem.
She says she, along with a few of her friends, “knew there was something wrong, but we weren’t exactly sure what that was.”
It was in attending a re:Action4Inclusion youth leadership event where they heard disability activist Norman Kunc speak that they started to get some clarity.
Kunc told his story of living with a disability and also talked about the small actions and choices that make a difference in how a person experiences life.
It was his comments about the small actions that struck home most for her, says Hunter.
As he spoke, she thought about the segregated classes at her high school and realized how, yes, people did respond to the students in those classes in the ways Kunc described, whether it was talking to their support workers rather than them or pretending to let them win because they had a disability.
“Listening to him talk was the point where I finally understood what was wrong and what I needed to do and how I could help people understand what they were doing wrong,” she says.
After the event, full of new insight and sense of mission, Hunter tried to set up some new programs to change how people interacted with their peers with a disability, but while the initiatives had some initial weak interest they quickly dissolved. She notes they needed more than one person driving them and others didn’t seem to have the same passion.
It was that point she had her biggest epiphany, she says, and that was to focus on being an example for her school.
Just by her regular actions every day, especially by hanging out with her friends who just happened to attend the segregated classroom, she would be saying to anyone who happened to see, “I’m not here because I’ve been asked to be; I’m here because I want to be.”
Now attending George Brown College in pursuit of a child and youth worker degree, Hunter continues to bring this way of being into her studies and social life.
Asked how people respond to her, she notes she isn’t always applauded.
She recalls a college class on children with exceptionalities where she responded to the emphasis on therapy with the argument that in many cases therapy is about forcing others to be more “mainstream,” rather than welcoming and learning from their differences.
Some reacted quite badly, she notes, suggesting in some cases they have recognized the truth in her word but were so focused on the careers in therapy they wanted, they didn’t like to hear how it might negatively affect the people they thought they would be serving.
Asked about one thing she’d like the people she meets to take away from her life and story, Hunter says it’s that there is still work do it when it comes to creating inclusive communities — but it’s not impossible.
And she’d like them to become convinced, as she is, that making the change isn’t so much about programs as it is “your philosophy in life and how you carry yourself and how you demonstrate that to other people.”
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