While many students are directly or indirectly affected by disabilities, until now, few have felt comfortable enough to talk about it with their peers, fearing discrimination or lack of understanding from others. Students Supporting Disabilities (SSD), a new McGill club, is working to change this.
The mandate of the club is simple: to provide an open social support network for students who have been affected by physical or mental disability in one way or another. While most club members either have a disability or know individuals with disabilities, others are also welcome.
“The club caters to people who want to learn more about disabilities and how to bring about awareness and understanding,” says Molara Awosedo, president of SSD.
The group, which is currently working towards becoming an official SSMU club, was initiated at McGill last semester after Awosedo and co-founder Silvana Lovera discovered that they shared something in common: both have siblings with autism. They found a support network in each other and wanted to extend this to the rest of the McGill community.
“Just because of the relief we felt with each other, we thought it would be cool to start a group,” remarks Lovera, executive vice-president of Students Supporting Disabilities. “[We wanted to] let other people, who probably don’t know someone who has a sibling or friend with a disability, just [meet others who have had] the same experience growing up,” adds Awosedo.
In keeping with their mandate, a significant portion of meetings is devoted to discussion centered on disability. At each meeting, the group focusses on a specific discussion topic, such as how disability has impacted members’ goals or how to cope with being in a different province than affected relatives.
“[We had] one meeting where we just stayed for an hour-and-a-half talking and it didn’t feel as if I was being pulled or dragged to a meeting,” says Lovera. “It was kind of a cool way to socialize and get to know people.”
The group has also been dedicating much of their time and effort to planning their upcoming “R” word campaign. Through posters on campus, a website, and word of mouth, SSD hopes to make students aware that using the word “retard” is unacceptable and hurtful, even if comments are not directed toward people with disabilities.
“Words are used mistakenly all the time and within the wrong context,” explains Awosedo. “We hope to bring forth the knowledge that the words retard and retarded hurt people … With this, they might catch themselves before using it in their everyday lingo.”
In future years, the co-founders hope to see the group extend further within the McGill and Montreal communities. The co-founders are optimistic about the future of SSD, but note that most of their executive and club members are graduating this year and, if the club is to continue to grow, SSD needs more support from younger students.
SSD members find the experience fulfilling. “You get a network of people who understand something about you that most of your friends don’t,” says Lovera. “It’s not that it’s something bad, it’s not that it’s something that we keep secret, it’s just a different kind of understanding.”
SSD hopes to spread this sense of understanding and acceptance toward people with disabilities in the McGill community.
Students Supporting Disabilities meets Thursdays at 5 p.m. in the SSMU cafeteria. If you are interested in learning more, please e-mail Molara Awosedo and Silvana Lovera at [email protected]