26 04 2008

Students working to fight discrimination

Guest speaker talks about discrimination she still fights

By Clark Kim
April 24, 2008

Scarborough – The Mirror


More than 150 students came together Wednesday, April 23 to develop an action plan to fight discrimination of any kind and promote equity in their respective Scarborough and North York schools.

The Equitable Schools forum was held at the Scarborough Civic Centre where Grade 10 and 11 students learned about such issues as race, class, gender, sexual orientation and ability.

“We want students to become more aware of the issues of equity and inclusion,” said Karlo Cabrera, equity instructional leader at the Toronto District School Board responsible for schools in the northeast quadrant.

Before breaking into various workshops tackling such issues as poverty, creating barrier-free schools and emotional abuse, guest speaker Victoria Nolan talked about her challenges growing up legally blind due to a degenerative eye disease.

The board elementary teacher and 2008 Rowing Paralympian was diagnosed at age 18 with retinitis pigmentosa, which damages the rods and cones in the back of the eye.

Her eyesight, therefore, appears to be normal, resulting in many people believing she has no problems seeing, and others accusing Nolan of faking her disability.

“As a child, people thought I was just clumsy,” Nolan said. “In high school, it became a bigger problem. Gym classes were a nightmare.”

She added that a lot of people thought she was a snob when she wouldn’t acknowledge someone’s wave or handshake, not knowing she couldn’t see their hand extended at all.

More recently, a public transit driver confiscated her disability card, thinking Nolan wasn’t blind at all, and kicked her off the streetcar.

“The internal scars heal a lot slower than the physical ones,” she said.

But then Nolan talked about fighting the discrimination she faced because of her disability. She gained confidence through rowing, winning a bronze medal at the World Rowing Championships and being able to compete in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, China.

Nolan also encouraged the students to attend more forums where they can tell their stories about equity and discrimination.

“We have a long way to go,” said Nolan, stressing the need to raise more awareness of equity issues.

That’s what Manal Al-Ayad is trying to do at L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute in Scarborough.

“I believe knowledge is power,” said the Grade 11 student, who joined her school’s equity committee last year. “It’s really been a great experience.”

The committee has worked on several initiatives including the White Ribbon Campaign to fundraise for the Scarborough Women’s Shelter and the Sock It To Me campaign with the Toronto Youth Cabinet to provide socks for the homeless.

Manal said the best way to get their message out to combat bias, prejudice and stereotypes is to just be honest with other students.

“We have to tell them the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing,” she said.

List of schools participating in the forum

Agincourt C.I. (Scarborough)

Albert Campbell C.I. (Scarborough)

AY Jackson C.I. (North York)

Don Mills C.I. (North York)

Earl Haig S.S. (North York)

George S. Henry Academy (North York)

Georges Vanier S.S. (North York)

L’Amoreaux C.I. (Scarborough)

Leaside H.S. (East York)

Lester B. Pearson C.I. (Scarborough)

Sir John A. Macdonald C.I. (Scarborough)

Stephen Leacock C.I. (Scarborough)

Timothy Eaton B.T.I. (Scarborough)

Victoria Park C.I. (North York)

York Mills C.I. (North York)

Fleming P.S. (Scarborough)




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