Don’t underestimate people with disabilities: Accessibility award recipient

Elyse Lappano (BPhEd ’11, MA ’13) believes it’s a mistake for society to underestimate people with disabilities.

“We take for granted what they can do and what their skill set actually is,” she said.

Lappano, Brock’s Experiential Education Co-ordinator, Inclusive and Adaptive Programs, was honoured with the University’s Accessibility and Inclusion Award in a ceremony Monday, Dec. 3 — a day recognized around the world as International Day of Persons with Disabilities. For the past three years, the award has been handed out to acknowledge the work being done on campus to elevate the inclusion of people with disabilities.

“I am astounded by Elyse’s contributions in the area of accessibility and inclusion on our campus, in Niagara and at the provincial and international levels,” said Sandy Howe, Associate Director, Experiential Education.

Lappano has been involved with community programming and service-provisioning for people experiencing disability for nearly a decade.

As an undergraduate student, she worked with the University’s SNAP program (Supporting Neuro Diversity through Adaptive Programming), a developmentally appropriate movement education-based curriculum for children and youth with disabilities.

Her experiences with the program influenced her decision to focus her graduate work on the sustainability of mentally appropriate programming for people with disabilities. She also consults with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and educates their teachers and educational assistants on how to provide developmentally-appropriate physical activities for their students.

In her role with Brock’s Co-op, Career and Experiential Education office, Lappano now runs community programming at Brock for various populations.

She said by working closely with neuro-diverse people, Brock students are able to develop skill sets that they might not normally be able to develop.

“Students always talk about how they’re better able to communicate because not everyone they work with communicates using verbal speech,” said Lappano. “Students have to use more creative communication methods so the participant can understand them, and conversely, so the student can understand what the participant is expressing to them through their actions, sounds or forecasts.”

Lappano is the third recipient of the Accessibility and Inclusion Award. Previous winners include Keely Grossman (BA ’17), the Founder of ABLE Brock and Jessica Lewis (BRLS ’18), a disability advocate and Paralympian.

The award is presented each year by Chris Lytle, AODA Co-ordinator with the Office of Human Rights and Equity Services, who said the work the University has undertaken lately is a step in the right direction.

“We’re shifting the focus from a deficit model of accommodation to one that focuses on human rights,” he said. “Accommodations are certainly required, but the human rights and equity lens allows us to travel in a different direction as we move further into the 21st century. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often left out of the human rights conversation.”

Lytle said that following the presentation of the 2017 Human Rights Task Force with its recommendations for the University to focus on anti-ableism and disability justice, Brock has moved some distance toward full inclusion for members of the community living with disabilities.

A new Accessibility Policy was passed in March 2018 and a new President’s Advisory Committee for Human Rights, Equity and Decolonization focused on anti-ableism and mental health held its first meeting in October 2018.

“Brock is now incorporating the terminology of anti-ableism is a huge move toward ameliorating systemic discrimination that is experienced by people with disabilities,” said Lytle.

He encourages anyone interested in learning more or wanting to get involved with accessibility and inclusion at Brock to contact him at x5454 or

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