Saskatoon: Almost everyone agrees that a lot of progress has been made, but that we may need many more International Days of Persons with Disabilities before the remaining obstacles to their full participation in society are dismantled. As the poet and writer Denise Bissonnette remarked in Dialect, a news magazine of the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living “We are far from the finish line of achieving True Inclusion!”
What the International Day of Persons with Disabilities does bring each year is the renewed hope that we are getting there, often mingling baby steps and leaps, but we are getting there nonetheless. Such positive thinking was in the air, almost palpable, when more than one hundred people, braving an early fit of winter, responded this week to the invitation of the North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre (NSILC) and converged on the Prairieland Exhibition Park, in Saskatoon, to hear the moving stories of two speakers already well known in the community Julie Mintenko, news anchor at Global Television Saskatoon, and Paralympian Alexandre Dupont.
Some came in wheelchairs, or slowly walked in with the help of a cane or while holding the arm of a companion, or the hand of a family member. Some drove in on their small scooters and used the few feet of space between the tables and the walls as parking spots. Others walked toward their seats while keeping an eye on a specialist of sign language. Almost all of them, men and women of different ages and backgrounds, were people with disabilities, but on this day the diseases took a back seat to good humour and determination.
For many of the guests it was a repeat attendance, because the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Programs Luncheon has become a must for its warm mix of networking, learning and sharing. For the staff at the North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre, host of the event with the support of Western Economic Diversification Canada, it is another useful tool in helping disabled persons with entrepreneurial drive realize their full potential “and contribute to the economic growth of their community”. More importantly, such a day is like adding one more brick to the edifice of self-confidence and sense of belonging, which can become brittle when someone with a disability is reminded time after time of his or her “limits” in life.
One such person, Jerry Kapeluck, a 37 year-old man with Spina Bifida, started his own company,JCC Computers, after seeing too many doors close on him. “I got really fed up with the lack of job offers, and tired of being told what I could do or could not do. I learned fast, worked hard, got help from my parents, and now I am the happy owner of my enterprise”. For Kapeluck and others at the luncheon, the speeches they heard that day were a good shot in the arm.
With a good dose of humour, Alexandre Dupont, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago, picked up the microphone and guided us through a story filled with hard work and hope. The terrible accident, the shock of losing a leg, the realization that he was, at 17, a disabled person, and then the discovery of a sport – racing in a wheelchair –, the meeting of his future wife, Ilana Duff
During those years, the Québec native found the time – and must have drilled in some magic place for the energy – to become a Paralympian, winning a bronze medal at the World Championships in New Zealand and representing Canada at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
The themes of that day, Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all, Bridge to Success and Living without Barriers, as well as the contest announced for new entrepreneurs, Just Watch Me, are more than just words. They are an expression of hope built on the achievements made in the search for inclusion and full participation in society of persons with disabilities. They are also a reminder that the work is still in progress.
Read More Here: Exchange Stories on Disability