Redefining Education

Today’s blog is another in my developing series on disability positivity in education. This has certainly been the most frequent topic thus far for this blog, with four of my posts falling under this umbrella. Reflecting on this, I think there is a pretty clear reason for this. Disability positivity, as a movement at least, is still pretty new and in development. As a result of this, it is the next generation that we need to focus on. And, as education is largely about preparing the next gen activists for what lies ahead, the education bend to my blog is not that surprising.

For the past year, I have been running a Disability Positivity pilot program at Monarch Park Collegiate, a high school in Toronto’s east end. I have not been paid for my time (except for a shower of compliments and a huge boost in confidence) and I have put a lot of work into my time there. Many have questioned this choice, as it has been a huge commitment to make for no income. But I am beyond glad that I stuck to my guns and followed through. I needed to prove what I knew to be true in my heart. Education needs a Disability Positive approach.

I am pleased to say that I did prove that hypothesis…and then some. My year at Monarch Park has been more successful than anticipated. The students are more confident, stronger advocates and take greater pride in their identity as disabled. I have counseled, trained staff and offered the community the much needed lived experience of disability. Together, we have pushed boundaries and I have been told by the principal, department head and associated staff that my presence there has been profound. So yeah, I’m pretty sure that I have proven the model.

Let me try and articulate the shift. Using a disability positive approach, we have empowered. Students are now no longer looking for ways to get around their disability, they are embracing it as a unique part of their identity. They are no longer shying away from advocacy, they are taking charge and speaking up. My Monarch Park crew has shown just how valuable a fresh take can be. For years we said to disabled students “You can be whatever you want to be, but we’ll try and normalize you first”. We have demonstrated that there is a better, more successful way.

I have told the amazing people at Monarch Park that I cannot continue there next year pro-bono. I need to focus on things through my business that will generate income, but I KNOW this can and should be one of them. And with a shout out to Julia Oliver, Monarch’s first winner of the Tim Rose Disability Positivity Award, I’ll say this: If what I’ve written here speaks to you and you too would love to see this happen, spread the word and get in touch. The movement is building, but I need your help. Together, we can bring disability positivity to education…in a big way.