First of its kind forum for youth with disabilities held at Carleton

Students Christine Kelly (centre) and Erica Carson (right) were the lead organizers of the Youth Activist Forum held at Carleton from June 3 to 4. The event was co-hosted by Citizens with Disabilities Ontario (CWDO) and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Dale Stevenson (left), Kelly and Carson are all members of the CWDO. (Photo provided by Christine Kelly)

A thought-provoking forum for youth with disabilities held at Carleton – the first of its kind in Canada – attracted more than 50 participants from across Ontario.

The Youth Activist Forum was hosted by Citizens with Disabilities Ontario (CWDO) along with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities in June. The event was organized by Carleton students Christine Kelly and Erica Carson, who are both board members of CWDO.

“We are trying to highlight new forms of activism. That it’s not all letter-writing and standing with a protest sign,” says Kelly.

Participants aged 16 to 30 from across Ontario took part in forums and workshops led by a variety of disability activists including athletes, artists and policy writers from all over North America, most of whom have a disability.

Jes Sachse, acclaimed self portraiture and disability activist, performed and hosted a workshop at the forum. She is the face of American Able, a collaborative project with photographer Holly Norris comprised of provocative American Apparel advertisements. The 26-year-old was born with a rare physical disability called Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a physical condition primarily affecting the appearance of the hands, face and feet.

“As someone involved with disability and art at different capacities, I know that when it comes to youth there isn’t a lot available in terms of programming,” says Sachse. The three-day event was not an easy event to organize, especially in terms of funding which came from sponsorships, grants and fundraisers. The money raised – more than $36,000 – helped cover travel, accommodation and meals for some of the participants.

For the first time in Canada, youth had the chance to gather in one location with their peers to discuss disability activism.

“If nothing else, at least people (had) the opportunity to make friends at this conference which I think is one of the most important things, no matter how exciting the workshops are,” adds Sachse.

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