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Be Your Own Accessibility Advocate

Time flies, even if it’s not always when you’re having fun. Experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic was kind of like driving through a tunnel – I knew I’d come out into the daylight again, but the maps on my phone wouldn’t load and the tunnel felt endless. For me, that daylight eventually came from my time at university, which was an experience that illuminated my passions and goals.

Entering university can be difficult for anyone, but it can be more difficult for individuals with a disability. Not only is it hard to coordinate personal care supports, but entering university also involves entering into a relationship with a large organization that has its own set of rules. Because of the pandemic, I was denied admission to my university’s residence, as regulations stated that having personal care workers posed too much of a health risk.

When you feel like your rights are being withheld from you, and you want something badly enough, I urge you not to compromise for less. I could have accepted defeat, kept quiet and hoped that things would improve. Or I could have given up on pursuing my post-secondary education goals. But, as is often the case for disabled people, the path hardest to tread was the one with the most optimistic ending. I made an effort to connect with several media outlets, including the Hamilton Spectator, and wrote many emails to people who were involved or connected to the university’s decisions regarding accessibility needs, students and their rights.

If I didn’t fight for my rights, then other students in my situation may not have been able to live in residence either. While I don’t entirely know what caused the university to eventually allow disabled students requiring personal care support to live on campus, I hope the pressure brought on by accessibility advocates helped push them to re-evaluate their policies. Advocacy is important because it is about more than just yourself. Being part of an effort that benefits more people than those in your immediate network is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have in life. Everyone deserves equal access to education, and we all have a responsibility to bring about positive change. In my self-advocacy journey, I was often uncertain of whether I would succeed. A common trend in self-help literature is the notion that we should only be concerned with what we can control. Although this is probably impossible to completely actualize, it is important to train yourself to release the negative thoughts about things that we can’t control. Once this is done, we can focus on things in our power. I wish I worried less about what I can’t control, and be more focused on being happy about the things I try to do to make others’ lives better. If you try to do good for the betterment of others, you can be happy with the attempt despite the result.

I hope that others who find themselves in situations where they feel their rights are being denied find inspiration to not give up. Upon entering my second year of university, I will be attentive to the opportunities given to me, which many before me have fought for. If you have the opportunity to do hard things for the betterment of others, I urge you to do them. And finally, be happy with your commitment to help yourself and others.