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NEADS National Student Leadership Forums Final Report
May 25, 2000
Submitted by: Steven Estey
Under the direction of its Board of Directors, NEADS' sponsored four Student Leadership Forums across Canada. They took place between November 1998 and November 1999 in Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and St. John's. Through the course of the four Leadership Forums nearly 200 students with disabilities had the opportunity to meet and discuss issues of leadership and comment on the activities of the Association.
This was a valuable project because it was the first time that NEADS had been able to go across the country to University and College campuses. In each of these meetings members of local organisations had the opportunity to discuss leadership issues, and to speak directly with members of the Board about what was happening on their campus, and, finally, to offer suggestions and ideas about how the Association could support them and their campus organisations.
A preliminary report was tabled at the last NEADS Board Meeting, held in Ottawa, on November 13 & 14,1999. That report sketched the process and recommendations from the Forums for members of the Board. This report will present a more detailed discussion of recommendations and observations made by students with disabilities across the country. It will also acknowledge the areas where the Association has already been active in responding to its membership, and areas that could be the focus new energies in the future.
In general the recommendations made by the membership can be broadly grouped into four areas: support to campus organisations, support to individual students, expanded internet services, and high school outreach. Each area will be discussed separately below.
Observations & Recommendations
Support to Campus Organizations
- Membership & Funding
Start small - many groups may evolve; they may start off as primarily social and peer support networks, and eventually move into advocacy work. While advocacy and support services were often the main focus of more developed groups they still provided a "space to hang out" for members, so the social side was not lost.
Able-bodied members - many groups have members with and without disabilities. Their membership and support may lend strength to the organization. It also provides an opportunity for students without disabilities to learn from the interaction with disabled students.
Alumni - get alumni on your side, they have influence and in some cases may succeed in bringing issues to the forefront.
Create a formal structure - when the group feels comfortable with this it will enable your group to receive funds. To do this you need to write a constitution and elect a Board of Directors, and an executive. In this way you can become a campus society and be eligible to support from the students' union. Many groups received funding from their student unions.
Access levy - Funding for campus groups can be provided with the addition of an accessibility levy to student ancillary fees. This is often used to generate money for retrofitting buildings and some resources could be directed to disability groups on campus.
- Leadership training
Graduating leaders - while people already involved were motivated, a key problem is maintaining momentum as people graduate. Some suggested that student unions should put more emphasis on funding and logistical support to disabled students association's, and thereby give the group more time to work on membership development and leadership training.
Leadership training - NEADS should offer technical support to students who are involved so that they are able to build their leadership skills. The Leadership Guidebook is a place to start, but more support would be helpful.
- Campus Activities
Have a membership drive - can be done as part of orientation given at the first of the year by the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). It could also be done during the orientation for new students given by the Students' Union.
Disability Awareness Day - have an awareness day and get high profile people involved.
Collect local access-related information - information about accessible transport, housing, entertainment facilities, attendant care and other similar things.
Representation - have a disability representative on your students' union. They would talk about disability concerns and issues, and ensure they were considered as part of ongoing decision making. Also ensure representation on accessibility committees of any sort. Another important area in many schools relates to new construction. The Students Organisation should work with the OSD to ensure new buildings are fully accessible.
Partnership with Community Groups - get organisations from the community, like the CNIB or CPA, to come and give talks about their activities and support that they could offer for students with disabilities. Also encourage members of campus organisations to get involved in these community groups. Some groups also talked about hosting a local or regional conference for students with disabilities.
- Role for NEADS
NEADS should identify schools where no groups exist. There should be a response to this, maybe in the form of a letter urging the formation of disabled students' group.
NEADS should develop tools to support the organising initiative of a few students with disabilities if they want to start a group
NEADS should develop a joint membership fee structure, whereby a member of local group automatically member of NEADS (on mailing list, etc.).
Support to Students
- Local information & referral
Campus groups should provide current information and tips on local transport, housing etc.
They should also provide information and referral about financial support and advice available on campus.
- Peer Support
Peer support is beneficial to students with disabilities, who are seeking advice and support from others who have had similar experiences.
- Role for NEADS
NEADS should be a clearinghouse of scholarship, grant, loans, any kind of funding information that is available, federal, provincial, municipal level, to get all that information together one place.
NEADS should provide internet links from its web site to National disability service agencies (like CPA, CNIB, CAD, etc) From those sites students should be able to access information on community based disability supports, such as interpreters, attendants, transportation, housing, etc.
NEADS can encourage peer support, to some degree, via the NEADS list-serve.
NEADS should also consider expansion of its web site to include chat room technology.
NEADS should also provide clearly Internet links to employment support and information, such as the CCRW web site.
High School outreach
- Role for campus groups
Contact local High Schools and Junior High Schools to see if there are students with disabilities who would like to have post-secondary students visit schools to meet students who have disabilities, in order to discuss educational options.
Special meetings of campus groups could be arranged to meet students in school secondary students with disabilities on campuses.
- Role for NEADS
NEADS should create an "associate" membership to Secondary Students, and advertise this widely.
NEADS should produce a special newsletter issue for secondary school students (done in co-operation with an organisation like the Canadian Council for Exceptional Children)
NEADS should open access to list-serve for secondary students, or set up a different list-serve for them.
NEADS should include information on web site that will be useful for secondary students.
NEADS should implement an "internet-based" mentoring program for secondary students, introducing and supporting them through list-serve.
Note: Many of these ideas have been mentioned above, this section is intended to summarise them, and provide more details where needed.
- Role for NEADS
NEADS web site should link to community resources and information via national disability organisation sites like CPA, CNIB, and CAILC.
NEADS web site should link to Employment related agencies and services.
NEADS should consider developing an Internet based peer support program for post-secondary students. This could use chat room technology and volunteer moderators. Could be done in conjunction with a national disability organisation like CAILC or CPA, which have expertise in peer support programming.
NEADS should provide an opportunity for all campus-based student organizations to use NEADS' web site and/or list-serve to disseminate and share information between groups.
Given that this document is a summary of recommendations and observations of the general membership, it should be closely considered and discussed by the Board of Directors. As you will note, many of the observations and recommendations have already been implemented. However, some recommendations on the list have yet to be implemented; these, in particular, should be discussed carefully by the board of directors.
These discussions could lead to a decision not to proceed on a particular item. Or they could lead to the development of resolutions for consideration at the next AGM. Finally, in some cases, where appropriate, steps should be taken before then to act on recommendations that the Board supports.