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‘Let’s start a movement, #InclusionNow’

The panel for the Inclusion Now public forum held Wednesday was (left to right) Paul Walsh, board president of Coalition of Persons with Disabilities NL, Kathy Hawkins, program manager of Inclusion NL’s Employer Support Services, and Jonathon Pittman.
The panel for the Inclusion Now public forum held Wednesday was (left to right) Paul Walsh, board president of Coalition of Persons with Disabilities NL, Kathy Hawkins, program manager of Inclusion NL’s Employer Support Services, and Jonathon Pittman.

A diverse crowd gathered at the Easter Seals Centre on Wednesday evening to discuss inclusion for persons with disabilities.

Topics ranged from inclusion in the workplace and in grocery stores, to more accessible washrooms for people who have an inflammatory bowel disease.

Jonathon Pittman wrote a simple paper for a school assignment at the College of the North Atlantic about his troubles with accessibility around the city, which inspired the “Inclusion Now” series by The Telegram.  

“Everyday frustrations started building up,” said Pittman. “Every person should have access to simple things, like products on a shelf at the grocery store. I realized that if nobody speaks up about these issues, nothing will ever get done.”

Paul Walsh, board president of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities NL, says his biggest challenge with inclusion when it comes to his disability is things other people simply overlook.

“I was invited to a meeting that I really wanted to attend, but I knew the building wasn’t accessible, so I had to decline,” said Walsh. “I don’t think people go out of their way to make situations difficult for me, I just think there is a lot of unintentional discrimination.”

“When you think about inclusion, really, you just want to be a part of the community,” said Kimberly Power from Empower — The Disability Resource Centre. “You want to be employed and use your skill set.”

Power said the organization recently had an opportunity to hire people with disabilities. By putting an ad out through their own network, the organization received 50 applications.

“We interviewed 18 applicants, and 18 of them begged for the job,” said Power. “They had passion, and they had skills out the ying-yang.”

Walsh said studies have shown that persons with disabilities have a larger dedication to companies, and a stronger work ethic.

“It constantly amazes me that all the places that are not being inclusive are cutting themselves off from all this talent,” said Walsh. “They are losing the business of people who could be buying their goods and services.”

Jonathon Pittman inspired The Telegram’s “Inclusion Now” series, with one simple letter to the editor.

Pittman reminded the crowd of about 30 that people must remember to acknowledge the businesses that are making a strong effort to be an inclusive space.

“When there is a business that I have a good experience with, those are the ones who are getting my money,” said Pittman. “From now on, when you see a business doing something good or bad, say something. Social media is a powerful tool.”

Parents of children with mobility issues raised concerns at the meeting.

One parent said she still has to go to school with her daughter, who is in a wheelchair, in case she has to go to the washroom.

Another parent commented that the washrooms are deemed to be accessible, but once the wheelchair gets in the washroom, the door cannot be closed.

Telegram reporters Ashley Fitzpatrick and Louis Power have spent the past number of weeks dedicating their days to the “Inclusion Now” series.

“We’re hoping this will be a starting point for a bigger conversation,” said Fitzpatrick. “We want to touch on some of the broader issues, but that takes people coming forward to tell us what those issues are.”

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