Sharing the experiences of students with disabilities

Dec. 3 is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, and SAIT student Shalom Heinsen is looking to create a yearly event that will help build bridges between people with disabilities attending SAIT and the rest of the student body.


Heinsen is in her first year of the Legal Assistant program, and hopes to get into family law once completing her diploma at SAIT.


“I’m just trying to help get awareness that not all disabilities are visible,” said Heinsen.


Heinsen, who has a mild cognitive learning disability and is on the low side of the Autism spectrum, was inspired to create the event because of her difficult experiences in the education system.


The purpose for Heinsen is to not only help raise awareness, but to also let other people who may have similar experiences know they’re not alone.


“From the time when I was five, I have been extremely bullied,” said Heinsen.

“It’s been really hard, just because I feel like I’m a person and I don’t need to be judged the way I am.”


Partnering with Accessibility Services

SAIT’s Accessibility Services is supporting the initiative. They are always looking to help remove obstacles for students with disabilities.


“She wholeheartedly offered her assistance to create an event,” said Denise Johnston, Accessibility Advisor at SAIT.

“I do believe she would be a strong crusader.”


Accessibility Services is actively working with students to find new ways to further improve student success by reducing obstacles to success.


According to Johnston, there are approximately 1,600 students attending SAIT with some form of disability.


One of the future activities that Heinsen and Johnston are planning is a human library “where students with disabilities would be open to sharing their narratives with students and staff,” said Johnston.


“It’s a great platform for students to come, to listen, and to ask questions if they’re curious.”


The goal would be to raise awareness and foster a greater connection with those that are experiencing post-secondary life with a disability.


“My idea is having it student-lead,” said Johnston.

“I think there would be so much power in having that.”


There is no official club or group on campus specifically representing people with disabilities, primarily because of strict privacy concerns.


“Because we’re working with very sensitive and confidential information, it would need to be initiated or directed by students,” said Johnston.


This creates an unusual circumstance where the measure that protects one’s privacy may actually be a barrier to connecting that person with others, and the support and friendship that may be available through a sense of community.


While it will be too late for an official event this year, Heinsen and Johnston say they will be working towards a poster campaign in the spring. They hope to have an official event set up in December 2020.



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