The Current

Meet the next generation of disability activists 'calling for a revolution'

The next generation of disability activists aren't waiting for society to 'help them', they're calling for a revolution. Meet young Canadians living with both visible, and invisible disabilities, fighting against gaps in funding, services, and attitudes.
Meet the next generation of disability activists. From L: Sarah Jama, Elsbeth Dodman and Rana Nasrazadani. (McMaster Students Union/Courtesy of Elsbeth Dodman and Rana Nasrazadani)

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As provincial and federal consultations take place across Canada, a new generation of disability activists are sharing their vision for an accessible and inclusive country.

Many young disability activists are pushing for a future that fills in the gaps from support services to changing attitudes towards disability.

"I want to be someone who can holistically push for systemic change. And I haven't exactly figured out how to do that other than like waving a red flag and calling for a revolution, Sarah Jama tells The Current's guest host Ing Wong-Ward.

"I want to be the type of person that figures out how to work outside of systems... to push for systemic change as a whole," says Jama, who hopes to run for city council one day.

Sarah Jama says she's the one controlling her own narrative and defining what her disability looks like to people. (McMaster Students Union)
Jama is the Ontario director for the National Educational Association of Disabled Students and recounts being "severely bullied" because she was one of two black people in her Alberta school.

​"The bullying was horrendous. It was to the point where I remember eating alone in an elevator shaft every lunch period so I could get away from the kids," Jama tells Wong-Ward.

When Jama was six-years-old she says controlling her own narrative was a powerful beginning towards her advocacy.

"I'm the one defining what my disability looks like to people around me."

Artist and autism advocate Elsbeth Dodman says society's narrative for people with disabilities can be very damaging.

"I think we need to work to change that narrative so that people… with disabilities can expect more from their lives and not be given that doom and gloom."

She tells Wong-Ward she doesn't want to spend life waiting for society to recognize her value.

I should be of value now as I am.- Elsbeth Dodman

York University student Rana Nasrazadani says the value and potential that she had in high school was shut down by educators who discouraged her from pursuing a post-secondary education because she lives with cerebral palsy.

"I was told that I wasn't ready to go to university when I was more than ready with my credit …. physically and emotionally."

Nasrazadani says the negativity and discouragement put onto youth with disabilities "really cuts short their potential."

Part of Nasrazadani's activism involves submitting and helping review the We Have Something To Say report — helping families and young people speak out about special needs and change.

"I think that we have all these voices but there needs to be better ways to have action put in place because there's all these voices from people, but how are they going to be heard if nothing is done."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar.