Teenage years are often thought of as a time for exploration, rebellion, and asserting individuality. This program explores that pivotal period of life through the lens of Disability.
Making Space: Stories of Disabled Youth in the GTA is a two-part online storytelling event series exploring the past and present experiences of disabled and chronically ill youth growing up in Toronto. Featuring personal narratives and artwork, this program is a space for recognition, solidarity, and celebration, exploring how the landscape for disabled youth has shifted over time.
This exhibit and event series is in partnership with ReelAbilities Film Festival of Toronto and the Miles Nadal JCC , and is curated by Ophira Calof.
Part One: Thursday March 11, 7-8:15pm EDT.
In the not so distant past, it was common for disabled people to live their lives in institutions. In fact, the last government run institutions for people with intellectual disabilities in Ontario did not close until 2009.
This storytelling event will bring to light stories from the 1960s-1980s as calls for deinstitutionalization and disability rights policy were gaining momentum, and an activist movement towards community living was gaining ground.
Featured storytellers include: Tracy Odell, Fran Odette, Frank Hull, Shahnaz Stri, Peter Park and Heather Willis.
Part Two: Thursday March 18, 7-8:15pm EDT.
This storytelling event will explore the present day lived experiences of disabled and chronically ill youth and young adults as they navigate a city that, according to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, aims to be barrier free by 2025.
Featured storytellers include: Samantha Walsh, Mari Dev Ramsawakh, Jenn Boulay, Sydney Dallas, Spencer West, and Steff Juniper.
Ophira Calof (She/They) is a multi award winning Disabled writer, performer, and producer. Her work weaves together music, comedy, and storytelling, centring disability and chronic illness experience. They co-created the sketch revue Generally Hospital (Canadian Comedy Award Nominee, Patron’s Pick, David Seguin Memorial Award for Accessibility in the Arts), and her musical solo show, Literally Titanium, was developed through the Buddies in Bad Times Emerging Creator’s Unit before premiering at the 2020 Next Stage Theatre Festival. Ophira also works as a curator, workshop facilitator, consultant, and keynote speaker with projects including COVID-19 through a Disability Lens: Storytelling and Filmmaking Project, the RAFFTO annual comedy night, We’re Not Waiting: A Photography Exhibition, and Bad Dog Theatre’s 5th annual Our Cities On Our Stages Diversity and Inclusion Symposium.
ReelAbilities Toronto Film Festival Now in our sixth year, ReelAbilities Toronto Film Festival is proud to showcase Deaf and disability cultures through film. In addition to our annual May festival, we host year round screenings, our Disability on Film lecture series, community arts projects, and comedy nights.
The ReelAccess/CinemAccessible Guide and the CBC-ReelAbilities Breaking Barriers Film Fund have helped build this Toronto festival into a mainstay of the city’s disability and cinematic fabric. Our ReelEducation program for children and educators has brought films and lesson plans about equity and inclusion into 190 schools across the province, in 28 school boards.
The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (MNjcc) has welcomed over two million people to the corner of Bloor and Spadina during the building’s 60+ year history. We provide opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to be active, learn, connect and participate in a wide range of cultural experiences. We are committed to accessibility. Inclusion is at the heart of what we do and who we are at the JCC.
Frank Hull is an established, professional artist who proudly lives with cerebral palsy and madness, embraces his Mi’kmaq heritage, and celebrates his gay identity. Originally a choir vocalist, over the past fifteen years Hull has distinguished himself as one of Canada’s most prominent power wheelchair choreographers and dancers. He more recently expanded his repertoire to include live and digital performance. Hull’s artistic practice is multidisciplinary, consisting of varied, vibrant works in dance, theatre, music and media arts. His artistic vision is to reveal the impacts of trauma and oppression on the body while positioning “deviant” bodies as a source of aesthetic appreciation, beauty and enrichment. Hull’s dance works have been presented several times at ART WITH ATTITUDE (Toronto) His most recent work includes contributing to “Access Me.” A play developed by the Boy’s in Chairs Collective Toronto.
Peter Park is known as a ‘godfather’ to the People First movement. He believes in positive change and has seen many of his visions for inclusion become reality. Peter was institutionalized for 18 years of his life and firmly believes that no people with intellectual disabilities should be living in an institution. He has received several awards and honours for his volunteer and advocacy work including the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his significant contributions and achievements towards inclusion.
Fran Odette has been working in the area of social justice and equity for approximately 25 years. Her work has had a particular focus on issues impacting women with disabilities and Deaf women. While in her position as Program Manager at Springtide Resources, Fran worked alongside Cory Silverberg to create and implement the Sexuality and Access Project, an initiative offering information and workshops designed to address the connection between violence prevention through healthy sexuality and sex positive programming.
Fran comes to this work from her own lived experience and as someone who is committed to advocating that people with disabilities live their lives with self-determination and agency. She works closely with service providers working with people with disabilities to ensure that programs reflect a human rights perspective, which include working from a place of respect and dignity. She has delivered workshops on healthy relationships and violence against people with disabilities to audiences both provincially and nationally. Fran is currently, part-time faculty in the Assaulted Women and Children’s Counsellor and Advocate (AWCCA) Program and teaches a critical disability course entitled Disability Discourse: The Experienced Life at George Brown College.
Fran has written and co-authored journal articles related to gender, disability and violence, as well, she co-authored with Cory Silverberg and Dr. Miriam Kaufman, a book entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability – For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain and Illness” (*Cleis Press).
Tracy Odell is a life-long advocate for independent living and the right of people with disabilities to live in the community. Tracy has assisted in founding numerous supportive housing programs with attendant services, is credited with the establishment of “Nurturing Assistance,” has published articles and appeared in videos to raise awareness of issues relating to disability. She has a Master’s degree in Critical Disability Studies, and received the John Lord Participatory Action Research Award for her Major Research Paper, “Not Your Average Childhood.” Self-managing her attendant services, Tracy lives with her husband in Scarborough. They are proud of their two grown daughters and granddaughter, who have inherited the advocate gene.
Heather Willis has been an accessibility advocate since she was a teenager growing up in an institution for disabled children. In the decades since, she has served on numerous committees and boards dedicated to the equity and full inclusion of persons with disabilities and currently sits on the board Tangled Art+Disability. Heather is a graduate of Ryerson’s School of Disability Studies, and has a post-graduate diploma in Disability Studies from the University of Leeds. In 2010, following a 25 year career at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Heather joined Ryerson University as it’s inaugural Accessibility Coordinator. She leads Ryerson’s accessibility initiative, “ACCESS RYERSON”, with the goal of identifying, removing and preventing accessibility barriers for all members of the Ryerson community. Heather lives in Toronto with her husband of 37 years and their cat Charley. She is passionate about disability arts and enjoys reading, puzzles of any kind, kayaking and hanging out at her cottage in the Kawarthas.
Spencer West The life of visionary and activist Spencer West has been marked by both obstacles and triumph. After losing both legs from the pelvis down at the age of five, he entered a world that might have easily defeated him. Instead, he tackled challenge after challenge, learning to navigate in a world set against those with disabilities. His many accomplishments and lessons learned along the way, led him to discover the techniques business leaders, professionals, educators and young people can use to redefine possible in their own lives and careers.
Whether headlining corporate conferences, addressing university/college students, educators, members of non-profits/associations or mesmerizing audiences in 20,000-seat stadiums, Spencer’s charisma and dynamism captivates all. Sharing his journey from losing both legs as a child, to climbing – and summiting – Mount Kilimanjaro using his hands and wheelchair, Spencer’s words and actions have encouraged millions to stand up, face challenges and embrace change. Everyone leaves with pertinent lessons they can apply to redefine what their possible is.
Spencer’s incredible story is documented in both film and print. His journey is featured in the documentary Redefine Possible: The Story of Spencer West, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and in his book Standing Tall: My Journey.
As the opener on Demi Lovato’s world tour across North America, Spencer spoke to and inspired tens of thousands of her fans. He has spoken alongside luminaries and performers such as former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, Mia Farrow, Martin Luther King III, Jennifer Hudson, Natalie Portman, and Miss Piggy, to name a few. And, has appeared countless times in the media (ABC News, 60 Minutes, CTV, BBC, TMZ, CNN, Forbes, and The Globe & Mail).
Spencer’s inspiring words have reached millions of listeners around the world, including Virgin Atlantic, KPMG, Staples, Microsoft, Universal McCann, Ministry of Education, Colleges & Universities, YPO/WPO, SickKids Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs, Healthcare Sector, Financial Institutions, and more.
Infused with humour and humility, Spencer’s talks offer take-home tips and life-lessons on how to find opportunity in every challenge, while instilling hope and empowering leaders to motivate others to create positive change.
Steff Juniper (they/them) is a second-generation, southern Italian-Canadian, white settler, residing in Tkaronto. They are a queer, non-binary trans witch, a mad/disability justice worker, writer and sound artist. They have completed an arts-based MA in CriticalDisability Studies at York University, titled “Trans-Feminist Witchcraft: A Psychiatric Survivor Narrative”, and are currently completing their PhD in “Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies” with a focus on feminist disability studies.
Mari “Dev” Ramsawakh is a disabled and non-binary multidisciplinary artist and storyteller based in Toronto. Their work focuses on their many intersecting identities and social justice. They have written news articles, essays, and opinion pieces for CBC, HuffPost Canada, Insider, Bitch Media, and other publications. They have produced the podcasts Sick Sad World and Cripresentation, and have acted as editor for Possibilities Podcast and Leaders in Colour Podcast. They’ve been published short fiction in the 2014 Hart House Review and in the Toronto 2033 anthology published by Spacing Magazine. They also facilitate workshops on ableism and anti-oppression, write poetry and occasionally model.
Samantha Walsh is a scholar, and activist. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Toronto-OISE In the department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Social Justice Education (HSSSJE), formerly Sociology and Equity Studies. Her doctoral research is in interpretive sociology with a focus on disability and social inclusion. She holds a Master’s degree in Critical Disability Studies from York University. Samantha completed her undergraduate degree in Sociology at the University of Guelph. She is the Director of Service at the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region.
Jenn Boulay is an emerging interdisciplinary theatre artist/creator, playwright, singer-songwriter, musician and scholar. She is a student in her final year of her undergraduate student studying at the University of Toronto pursuing a specialist in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies and a minor in Critical Studies in Equity and Solidarity, focusing on disability studies. She has had her work and interviews published in Feminist Space Magazine, Knots: An Undergraduate Journal of Disability Studies (Knots), THIS Magazine, TRiC, UC Magazine. Additionally, Jenn has a forthcoming interview in Canadian Theatre Review (CTR),and is a co-editor of the sixth issue of Knots.
Sydney Dallas is an artist, optimistic and inquisitive, hoping to bring awareness to rare and “atypical” chronic illness. With many of her own rare chronic illnesses, most stemming from Ehlers-Danlos Type 3, she has often struggled to find diagnosis and treatment for many life threatening chronic illnesses and hopes that by sharing her story, her diagnosis, and her knowledge in navigating the hospital system she can help prevent others from suffering through the same, as well as improve treatment for those with pre-existing chronic conditions when admitted in hospital.
She spends her free time hanging out with her unusual pets doing her best to become a human encyclopedia, learning new skills and doing a ton of arts and crafts.
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ReelAbilities Film Festival of Toronto