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Disability Pride Month: Inclusion Alberta & NWP

To end disability pride month, the SA wanted to highlight a couple of instructors who have contributed to Inclusion Alberta through their work with students with developmental/intellectual disabilities. We would like to thank Misha Albert (Fine Arts Instructor), Clinton Derocher (Trades Instructor), and Heather Joyce (Humanities and Social Sciences Instructor) for their continued work towards inclusion and accessibility here at NWP.

Why do you think Northwestern Polytechnic has a responsibility to include individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities?

Misha Albert | We all have a responsibility to embrace inclusion and Northwestern Polytechnic as a public institution has a responsibility to include individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities. I strongly believe education should be accessible to everyone. We at Northwestern Polytechnic are here because of and for the communities we serve, notably Grande Prairie, Fairview, and the Peace Region. Our communities are diverse and rich, and there is a place for all within our walls. Through inclusion, this diversity and richness provides us all with new perspectives from which we can work, grow, and make us better.

Clinton Derocher | This is a hard question to answer. You see I believe as a public institution we have the obligation to include all students that want to have a higher education. But when you say obligation that means it’s something that you have to do, not necessarily want to do. I would like to see all colleges and institutions across Alberta not feel it as an obligation, but to embrace including people with a developmental disability into any area of learning.

How do you think the inclusion of individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities at Northwestern Polytechnic impacts the community?

Misha | I hope inclusion breaks down the silos we often find ourselves in, and as a result, we all work together to become a stronger, more integrated community. I have continually made my classes available to individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities and I will readily admit that our classroom community has been enriched. It has made me a better instructor, and in-turn enhanced our shared experience. The rewards are incredible when we witness new perspectives, appreciate new approaches to learning, and integrate new ways to interact and communicate. Our community (in the classroom, and NWP) becomes a mosaic of incredibly unique individuals uniting to form a chef d’oeuvre.

Clinton | What we do at Northwestern Polytechnic has a huge impact on the community we serve. I think the most obvious impact we provide is that as a learning institution we provide the workforce for the area we serve, and that workforce should be as diverse as the area we serve. However, I think a more fundamental impact we have on the community is we are role models for the community and as that role model we need to include everyone.

How do you think the inclusion of individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities in education and employment can impact the Fine Arts community?

Misha | The Fine Arts community has always been a safe haven of inclusion and acceptance; a beacon of light to welcome one home. Our community invites exploration, encourages creativity, and holds space to share stories. Individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities help us grow our collective existence through sharing their perspectives. Every art form acts as a window into the lives of others. By nurturing art and storytelling, we are able to better understand one another and create empathy--a windfall for the Fine Arts community. In- turn, Fine Arts play an important role in our society by shaping cultures and building a better understanding of mankind, which creates a win-win situation for all involved, aided by inclusion. We are all better off for it.

How do you think the inclusion of individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities in education and employment can impact the Trades community?

Clinton | Back in 2019 when I started to talk to the folks at Inclusion Alberta about including a student in the trades program, I was shocked and saddened that this had never been done before. Again, this was 2019. We often hear it’s harder and harder to find people to enter into the trades programs. I think we just need to open it up to a larger demographic.

Can you talk about some ways you have helped students with developmental/intellectual disabilities and the impact it had seeing how they did in the classroom and/or once they completed their Trade and moved into their field of employment?

Clinton | I remember the first time I had brought up in a meeting that I wanted to include a student with a developmental disability into the millwright trades program. There was a lot of opposition that stemmed from a lot of confusion that people had of what someone with a developmental disability would be capable of doing. Once I explained the importance of what we were doing and the impact it would have the support slowly grew.

I can honestly say seeing the first student with a developmental disability complete the first-year millwright theory and shop was the highlight of my career. Since that time, I have been asked to chair the trades initiative at Inclusion Alberta and also, I have been invited to speak to many colleges around Alberta and BC about the importance of getting students with developmental disabilities into their trades programs. I am happy to say that every day our sphere of influence is growing.

Can you tell us about your experience working with Inclusion Alberta and having a student from their program in your classroom?

Heather Joyce | Welcoming a student from Inclusion Alberta’s inclusive post-secondary education program into one of my courses was a transformative experience.

While the student clearly benefited from the friendships he cultivated with his peers, he also positively contributed to their learning. His genuine excitement to be in the classroom set the tone for each lecture. In particular, his willingness to take risks and contribute to class discussions and his seamless, whole-hearted performances of key scenes from plays we considered encouraged other students to find their voices over the course of the semester. Class participation noticeably increased as his peers followed his example.

I also took my cue from him. Building outlets for the student’s passion for performance into the course made lectures more enjoyable for everyone involved and gave me the means to allow him to develop and demonstrate some of the same close-reading skills as his peers, reminding me of the importance of devising lectures and assignments that allow students’ strengths to find expression.

My experience with this program unequivocally illustrates why postsecondary institutions should be diverse and inclusive. Giving the student a voice in the classroom enabled him to contribute to the learning community as he developed social connections and learned about literary analysis; he was able to claim full membership in our class. Hearing his voice in the classroom not only challenged our preconceptions about the abilities of those with developmental disabilities but also increased his peers’ engagement with the course and inspired me to become a better instructor.

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