Students at Maple Ridge secondary learned a lesson about overcoming challenges on Monday after hearing the inspiring story of a Rick Hansen Foundation Ambassador who is paralyzed.
Benveet (Bean) Gill spoke to students in the MRSS Wings Program as well as students in the Family Studies Class about not only the challenges of overcoming discrimination as a person with a disability, but also overcoming the discrimination she has faced from being a woman, and a person of colour, of Indian descent.
Gill was paralyzed from the waist down after an “unforeseen event” in 2012.
In an online interview Gill said being born in Edmonton with brown skin, she has faced racial discrimination throughout her life.
She believes the Black Lives Matter movement has opened up the conversation surrounding racism in Canada and also discrimination against people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world, so we need to use our voices to elicit real change with politicians and decision makers,” Gill remarked, adding that the focus should remain on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There are too many cultures that discriminate against people with dark skin. As a woman with a disability and dark skin I can honestly say that no lives matter until Black lives matter.
Gill shared with the students her advocacy for equality in all aspects of life. She also explained to them how she uses her voice as a Rick Hansen Ambassador and as the head of a growing non-profit organization called ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre, to change the way the public sees people with disabilities.
Some of her accolades include: Global’s Woman of Vision award, Top 40 Under 40, RBC’s Women of Influence Award, and Miss Wheelchair Canada.
About 23 students attended the event along with about 7 education assistants. Students who attended were from the Wings Program, an intensive needs program for low-incidence students, like those with autism spectrum disorders to Down syndrome, along with a classroom of students who have been examining accessibility challenges for students with mobility issues at the high school.
“We are teaching our students what intersectionality means so when they meet other people, in this case Ambassadors, they see how they have overcome some challenges,” explained Wings Program teacher and coordinator Ramona Cruickshank, about the interconnected nature of social categorizations like race, class, and gender and how they can overlap and create an interdependent system of discrimination.
“We have also seen how (Ambassadors) use their platform to raise awareness of the other challenges they may face such as racism and able-ism and sexism to navigate through their life,” noted Cruickshank.
Cruickshank has been inviting Rick Hansen Ambassadors to the school for the past two years. Presenters have talked about perseverance, overcoming challenges and their life experienced from different perspectives. Last years presenter talked about challenges they had to overcome to access different spaces and activities.
By listening to these presentations, Cruickshank said her students are becoming more confident to self-advocate and share their own story. In addition, other students in the school are starting to see everyone for their abilities.
“They are emerging in understanding that things they may take for granted like coming to school late during a ‘late start’ doesn’t exist for a student that is dependent on taking the school bus. They still have to attend the usual time. Or they have to wait for someone to open a door for them because there is no accessible button,” noted Cruickshank.
“There are many people with both visible and invisible exceptionalities and our team with the Wings Program, both students and staff are working to increase awareness,” she said.
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