Day 6

'I can definitely speak for myself': Canadian interview series raises awareness about disabled community

Oakville, Ont.-based blogger Clayton Theriault, who lives with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, launched Hot Seat with Cognizant Clay, a video series on YouTube that aims to open up the conversation around disability during the pandemic.

'People are scared to ask us questions when really we love to answer the questions,' says Clayton Theriault

Clayton Theriault, who lives with Duchenne muscular dystropy and uses a motorized wheelchair, started the video series Hot Seat with Cognizant Clay during the COVID-19 pandemic in hopes of bringing more awareness to people with disabilities. (Submitted by Clayton Theriault)

Cooped up thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clayton Theriault decided to put his downtime to use.

The Oakville, Ont.-based blogger, who lives with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, launched Hot Seat with Cognizant Clay, a video series on YouTube that aims to open up the conversation around disability. 

"We aren't some sort of monster or somebody who can't contribute to society," he told Day 6 guest host Peter Armstrong.

"I may have muscular dystrophy and I can't walk, but I can definitely speak for myself."

It's an idea he says he's been thinking about for years. Though he only began the series in early April, the 27-year-old has produced nearly two dozen episodes featuring athletes, advocates and even celebrities.

Theriault says that while the COVID-19 pandemic has presented some challenges, he has enjoyed spending time on his series. (Submitted by Clayton Theriault)

But Theriault's main goal is to lift up voices in the disabled community — a group, he says, that is often overlooked, and sometimes held up as "inspirational" for the wrong reasons.

"The main reason I started is that I have a lot of friends that are disabled as well, and people often say, 'Oh, you're inspiring,'" he told Armstrong.

"It's not inspiring just because we're disabled. What's inspiring is what we, and other people, are doing for the disabled community, and I really wanted to share people's stories just because what they're doing on so many different levels is amazing to see."

'Now's the time for change'

Theriault's interviews blend personal anecdotes with discussions about disability and society.

In one interview, Theriault speaks with Canadian comedian Rick Mercer. The Hot Seat host says that he was inspired by Mercer's previous interview with former Ontario lieutenant governor David Onley. Onley, a disability advocate, uses a motorized scooter after surviving polio as a child.

"I actually met David Onley about 10 years ago and I interviewed him, and then right after that, I discovered that Rick had interviewed him, and I just thought he was so good with the disabled community," Theriault said.

"I just emailed him [Mercer] off the cuff, and he got back to me within two days."

In the hour-long conversation, the pair discuss Mercer's career, comedy and inclusion of people with disabilities.

"There's nothing fake about Rick Mercer," he said. "The fact that he built his cottage in Newfoundland completely accessible ... it kind of opened my eyes to say that anybody can become disabled at the snap of a finger, and we should all be prepared, whether we're disabled or not, to be accessible."

Another episode features Irish disability activist Caroline Casey, who advocates for better workplace inclusion. She says that conversations like those hosted by Theriault are key to the equality of disabled people.

"Your generation are the greatest chance to end the disability inequality crisis," she said.

"There is just still a huge discomfort around disability. That will be changed and broken by you, and the more that we speak — the more that we normalize that ... now's the time for change."

Working during the pandemic

Theriault says that he was somewhat "overwhelmed" by Casey's comments, but agrees that the need for people with disabilities to share their stories is great.

"People are scared to ask us questions when really we love to answer the questions for the most part," he told Armstrong.

Though Theriault has kept busy during the pandemic with Hot Seat, he acknowledges that parts of isolation have been difficult.

Theriault is at greater risk of respiratory illnesses, so he has been keeping to his Oakville home where he has support from personal care workers throughout the day.

"I'm a very social person and I have a lot of friends that come over to hang out to help me — multiple variables of assistance — and that part's been really hard, to not have friends over," he said.

"But at the same time, it's been kind of liberating in the sense that I can have the free time on my own."

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Laurie Allan.

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