Keely Grossman wants high school students with disabilities to know that higher education is within their reach.
And with that goal in mind, the Brock Social Justice and Equity Studies master’s student helped to organize a conference on campus this week to show teens that university life is a viable option for them.
More than 40 students from high schools across southern Ontario attended Brock’s inaugural Ability Empowerment Day on Monday, April 29. Organized by Grossman and a committee of her peers from the Master of Arts in Social Justice and Equity Studies (SJES) program, the day includes a series of workshops and activities for students experiencing disability to discover opportunities in post-secondary education.
The conference was a passion project for Grossman, who has long dreamed of hosting an event of this nature.
Being visually impaired, she knows all too well the challenges that a person with a disability can face when coming into a post-secondary environment.
“People with disabilities are often devalued by society. Certain assumptions can be placed upon us. I wanted to break that mould and go to university,” said Grossman, who completed her undergraduate studies at Brock before pursuing her master’s degree. “When I arrived at Brock, I was fortunate to gain a wonderful mentor who really encouraged me. I wanted to start this event because I feel that young people with disabilities need to be invested in more and need that encouragement.”
When Grossman began in the SJES program, she was “surrounded by a group of people that were as justice-passionate as I was.”
This gave her hope that her vision for the conference could come to fruition.
“It has been over a year in the making, and it wouldn’t have been possible without this team of dedicated people and the excellent support we received from the University,” she said.
Ability Empowerment Day brought together nine Brock departments and seven services to showcase snippets of life at the University. Participants were treated to mini-workshops from various academic departments, lunch in Market Hall, a mock lecture where they practised note-taking and a presentation from Student Accessibility Services. They finished off the day with a Mirror Theatre presentation by Dramatic Arts students, which focused on advocacy skills centred around post-secondary education.
Shelley Conliffe-Wiens, a work experience and guidance teacher at W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Brantford, brought a group of students to the conference.
“So much of the learning that visually impaired students do is through experiential learning and that truly was exemplified today at Brock,” she said. “The opportunity to take in a real-life lecture in the lecture hall was a fabulous learning tool for students to understand each of their needs and how they need to be active participants in working with the Student Accessibility Services to make sure that they have everything to be successful in their studies.”
Conliffe-Wiens also commented on the friendliness of Brock students, faculty and staff.
“People went out of their way to make us feel welcome,” she said. “The smallest of details were thorough and thoughtfully considered. I truly hope that this is just the first year of many to come. Real life opportunities like this are worth many a teaching moment in the classroom.”
Kristen Smith, Manager, Student and Community Outreach, worked alongside Grossman and the organizing committee to help plan the day’s events.
“Ability Empowerment Day was a wonderful opportunity to show potential students the possibilities available to all Brock students,” she said. “Working with a highly engaged group of student volunteers, staff and faculty on this project has been a wonderful example of how the Brock community can come together to support our local communities. Thank you to Keely Grossman and her colleagues in Social Justice and Equity Studies for recognizing the need, having a vision for the day and bringing it to life. I have been inspired by their hard work and dedication to the project.”
Grossman and the committee felt that the day was a success.
“I hope that Ability Empowerment Day helped our participants to see the value in themselves that we see,” she said. “I hope these students become contributors to their own futures. Seeing all of the high school students and the University community come together for this event was a truly wonderful experience.”
The Ability Empowerment Committee included: Grossman and fellow Social Justice and Equity Studies students Kevin Hobbs, Anella Bieteru, Sarah Hurme, Bridget Nicholls and Robin Cummings, Smith, Sonya Forsey, Manager of Conference and Event Services, Bobbie McGhee, Transitions Program Co-ordinator, Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre, Carly Dugo, Recruitment Officer, Campus Initiatives, and Christopher Lytle, AODA Co-ordinator, Human Rights and Equity Services.