‘It’s the small things from putting that shelf, that towel rack down a foot.’
On Jan. 11, Premier Dwight Ball hosted the annual Premier’s Youth Council meeting in the province’s capital city.
The meeting’s agenda addressed the topics that were to be discussed throughout the day. One of the topics was disability and inclusion.
Lisa Dempster, who is the minister responsible for the status of persons with disabilities, addressed the group as a whole.
“So, disability, as we would all know around the table here, can be visible or can be invisible,” she said.
A short time later, the meeting was turned over to the Premier’s Youth Council for their comments, questions, or suggestions on the topic.
The Premier’s Youth Council consists of 22 people from across the province between the ages of 16 and 24. The group was very engaging throughout the entire day. By the time Dempster was ready to hand over the meeting to the council, some were already waiting with their red mic light on to indicate they had something to say.
Lauren Carter, a Youth Council member from Harbour Breton, said schools should be more inclusive.
“In school systems now, when somebody has either a physical disability or a mental disability, the programs that they’re usually on take them directly out of the classroom and away from the other students.”
Carter said these students were being segregated from the others, creating a stigma because it encourages the “they’re different attitude.”
Billy Barnes, a council member from Woody Point, reinforced Carter’s comments by relating them to his brother, who has a disability.
“In school, he’s in a sort of segregated program all day by himself,” Barnes said.
His brother spends the whole school day with two other people: the teacher and the assistant.
“[His classmates] don’t see him,” Barnes said. “They’re not exposed to him. They [see] him in homeroom for about 10 minutes every day. So, that’s not a very good way to build up exposure to mental disabilities in a classroom. It doesn’t normalize it in a general setting like that.”
Barnes went on to say his brother is socially segregated as well. He said people in his class don’t interact with him.
“I think it’s because they haven’t received the education to know how to interact with him and do it properly.”
Barnes said he thinks the government should introduce something early on in schools so that students are educated on mental and physical disabilities and so they also know how to interact with the people affected by these disabilities.
Nicholas Hillier, a council member from St. John’s, contributed to the discussion by talking about his high school, Waterford Valley High.
“It was built with inclusion at the forefront,” he stated. “Right from our home ec labs, to our classrooms, to our shop labs.”
Hillier also included the cafeteria, the bathrooms and even said the elevator is never out of service for more than 20 minutes.
“We have people who need those services,” Hillier said.
“It’s like what the minister said; it’s the small things from putting that shelf, that towel rack down a foot,” he said.
Hillier urged the government to play an active role in making sure inclusion is at the forefront when new businesses are constructed.
The premier concluded the topic discussion by saying inclusion is getting ever more complex and gave the example of students with special needs having service animals in schools.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.