“Right away, I noticed a difference in how people treated me and talked to me.”

Meet Shelby; she is in the final year of her Media Communications program at Humber College – North Campus and she has been visually impaired since she was 14 years old. Through her work at the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), she aspires to improve the lives of students with disability needs at Humber and Guelph-Humber. Please watch her interview below:

We had the opportunity to sit down with Shelby and chat some more:

What challenges have you overcome in your life?

At 14, I became visually impaired when I was diagnosed with an Arteriovenous Malformation – and the way the pediatrician described it to me was “well, you know when you hear about 25 year olds that randomly drop dead in the street? That’s what you have.” So as a 14 year old person, it’s really hard to manage hearing that. After becoming visually impaired, I wasn’t able to read or use technology the way I was used to. I was bullied a lot when I came back to school; I was pushed into the lockers, and my white cane was kicked out of my hand. I have even encountered some instances of discrimination at Humber – someone was once so scared of Frances [my service dog] that they told me I didn’t belong here. That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about disability rights, which are a very relevant issue in this day and age. We’re denied access all the time, and yet everyone seems to accept it; whereas if this was based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, people would not accept the same discrimination that they do with disability.

That’s a great point to make – disability issues are rarely discussed.

I know, there’s a community of a lot of people who experience disability related discrimination every single day, and they don’t get the media coverage or people standing behind them that a lot of other issues do. I’m not saying that discrimination against anything is right, it’s just that we can’t forget about disability and we also have to be allies for people who experience adversity every day.

Do you have any suggestions for improving accessibility services at Humber College or IGNITE?

There are definitely things that every place can do. I don’t believe that perfection is completely possible in this regard, but progress toward improving accessibility is important. Something that Humber College can do [is improve Braille], there’s little to no Braille in some places around campus. For a student like myself that’s trying to navigate to my classroom, I can’t do that independently – I have to constantly ask people, and luckily I’m not shy – I feel confident asking someone “Is this Room L233?” for example, but otherwise there’s no way of me knowing because some of the numbers are above the doors, where usually there’s braille beside the door to read and determine which direction they have to go. Another thing would be improving the amount of accessible stalls; anyone who is in a wheelchair, or using a walker, or even a mother who has a child would all need space, which is a pretty basic thing that everyone needs.

Can you talk about accessibility services that you use here on campus?

Yeah, I’m very involved with Accessible Learning Services here on campus. For all my classes I require all my textbooks and assignments in electronic format, and I have assistive technology like Read&Write as well as ZoomText to read what’s on the screen to me. Accessible Learning Services has been so amazing in advocating with me whenever I’ve had difficulty with my teachers and them understanding. Accessible Learning Services has really been there to back me up and support me.

Shelby has been instrumental in helping IGNITE’s website become AODA compliant. She aspires to get involved in disability rights with legislation and policy development in government, and to make things more accessible for everyone.

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*This interview has been edited for length and clarity