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Celebrating disability justice: Interdependence and community


Sam Bradd, facilitator and illustrator, captured the essence of the BCTF's second Disability Justice Summit in the beautiful images seen here.

By Heather Kelley (she/her), BCTF staff

 

In early April of this year, the BCTF hosted its second Disability Justice Summit. An event where members from across the province who identified as being part of the disability community (living with physical disabilities, mental health challenges, chronic health challenges, neurodivergence and/or health and medical conditions) came together for a Friday evening and a Saturday to connect and build community, relationships, and leadership capacity. The event emphasized creating the time and space for participants to be reflective and thoughtful about their experiences and the opportunity to vision and dream big about what could be, within the context of what it is like to teach as someone living with a disability.

 

This was the second event of this kind; the first was held last year in late spring. It was a powerful experience to be with a group of people with a shared lived experience. Just like last time, many folks, including myself, reflected on this being the first time we could recall being in a space specifically for and with people living with a disability or difference.

 

There was a freedom in knowing that we didn’t have to explain or justify our experience to the room, because on some level, we all got it. We didn’t just sympathize with the experiences that we were talking about, we lived them. Living with a disability can be lonely; and feeling like you can’t be your whole self can be exhausting.

 

A participant reached out following the event and shared this: “I am still processing the whole thing, but I can tell you that the impact on me was profound. I am working on telling anyone and everyone about the importance of events like this at the BCTF and the importance of amplifying disability justice within our union, especially given the intersectionality of it all.”

 



During the visioning session participants were asked to dream about what teaching and the union would look like if they could change anything. We dreamed about a time when there would be unlimited sick leave, flexible FTEs, easy job shares, schools that were all physically accessible, and more professional development available for all teachers around ableism. The integration of child and health care into schools and the reimagining of schools as community spaces and hubs would also lead to a brighter future for public education. We dreamed about the value of people being more than what they are able to do—a time when every interaction is humanizing.

 

Disability justice is by nature intersectional, and the participants were able to explore how their lived experiences were similar and different to each other and to think about who wasn’t in the room and why that might be. Disability justice as a framework is a way to think about disability that centres intersectionality and the experiences of people who live at the intersecting junctures of oppressions. This includes, but is not limited to, disabled people of colour, immigrants with disabilities, queers with disabilities, and trans and gender non-conforming people. Disability justice also centres the notion of interdependence, and, as Mia Mingus explains, the importance of “…moving away from the ‘myth of independence’ and the idea that everyone can and should do everything on their own, because no one does it on their own.”(1) 

 

These summits are a starting point for us to explore disability justice while building community and working on the ways ableism shows up in our schools, classrooms, and union. If these past two events are any indication, this work is always best done in community, with delicious food and an expectation of interdependency.

  

 

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