Rediscovering Disability: Lessons from the Arctic

Hello PLLC blog readers! My name is Alannis McKee and I am excited to share some of the highlights of my stretch experience so far! 🙂

The project I am working on this summer is grounded in disability rights and focusses on discovering and elevating sites of disability pride and resistance by collecting and creating a platform for narratives of youth living with disability from across the Northwest Territories. My goal is to create a collection of first-hand narratives of success, challenge and resilience from youth, that is accompanied by an meta-analysis of all interviews to create collective calls to action to the Government of the Northwest Territories to better support and empower youth with disabilities in the territory.

Since late June I have been in my hometown of Yellowknife connecting with youth in my community and across the NWT through interviews in-person and over the phone. The response I have gotten from the network of youth in the NWT has been incredible. I’ve had the incredible oppertunity to already hear the stories of eight youth living with a range of disabilities in Yellowknife, Aklavik and Hay River, with at least a couple more youth scheduled in August. What I want to share with everyone is a few lessons I have learned in the first part of my stretch experience…

  1. All youth understand disability uniquely
    • One thing that has really struck me in my discussions with youth has been the range of conceptualizations of disability. Youth have very unique understandings of what disability means to them that range from disability being an almost unimportant aspect of their identity to disability being an immense source of pride and strength. Even youth with the same disability from the same community have strikingly different perspectives about what disability means to them.
  2. We shouldn’t be scared to talk about disability— we need to be having these conversations more!
    • As a person immersed in the disbaility community on a personal, professional and academic level I truly don’t think a day goes by where I don’t talk about disability in some capacity. Disability is very much a part of who I am as a person and how I direct my life. However, I had a HUGE learning curve when I started talking to the mainstream community about disability. Often, the first impressions of my project (from those outside the disability community) was discomfort. People aren’t talking about disability. We need to change that. Invisibility of disability in our conversations creates very real invisibility of disability in our lives and communities.
  3. Youth are amazingly open about sharing their experiences and asking questions
    • Now this point is connects to my last one. As communities we need to stop being so scared to talk about disability, especially when this fear is largely stemming from people outside the disability community. The youth I have connected with have been very open about their experiences and want other people to know about their lives and about their disabilities. Disability is part of who a person is, and if we’re too scared to talk about or be open to that part of a person, we will never know them fully. Having open conversations about disability with people with disabilities (who we know, have relationships with and agree to the conversation) is an absolute necessity.

I’m looking forward to learning so much more about disability in my community and sharing it!

I would like to give a shout-out to all the youth that have gifted me with their stories so far, I am humbled to connect and learn from you!! 🙂

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