Module Six: Youth Take Charge

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

— Margaret Mead, Author and Anthropologist

Building a Better Future for Everyone

You have followed several periods of time throughout Canadian history as you studied modules one through five. You have been able to explore a variety of historical perspectives. You have read and heard evidence of people’s experiences. You have also made conclusions about how Canada’s history has deeply impacted the lives of people who have an intellectual disability. 

We see now how our history has had profound consequences on our society. We continue to see how segregation and discrimination erode the quality of life for people in our communities. Since 2010, we see trends in Canada that suggest we may have forgotten this history. In provinces where institutions are the model of care, change cannot happen quickly enough. Human rights are not negotiable. 

Historical significance is an important part of being a change maker and community builder. It is crucial that we understand the significance of our past mistakes so that we can influence change today and tomorrow. Your study of the institutionalization of people who have an intellectual disability has shed light on both enduring and emerging issues. Our governments and communities are still seeking solutions for these issues. 

As an informed citizen, you have the social responsibility to use what you have learned to inform decisions you make in your own life. Your actions and efforts to improve the lives of your neighbours and peers who have a disability is how you can begin to demonstrate active citizenship. Canadians of all ages need to be part of the transformation. Our communities are where people belong. We all have an important role. Your role is to be an active member of your community.



Building a Community Garden for All

Nick Harris was a grade twelve student from Windsor Ontario. He attended F.J. Brennan High School. Through his relationships with people in his school who had an intellectual disability, he came to understand the inequality that his peers were experiencing. He identified the freedoms and privileges he was given that his peers who had a disability did not have. He wanted to create a sense community at his school, inside and outside of the classroom, that was grounded in inclusion and solidarity. Most importantly, he wanted to change the way his peers who had a disability were seen within that community. He decided to design a community change project that was entirely youth led. The goal of the project was to create a space that brought people together to learn and build authentic relationships. 

Nick invited students in mainstream classes and those in special education to join him in building a community garden in his school’s atrium. The space needed some updates. He recruited students from every grade to transform the space. This was a whole school project. This was also going to be a space that everyone had a responsibility to look after. For a month, each grade took turns spending a class period to help clear out the atrium so that new garden beds and benches could be built. 

Windsor is a unique city because monarch butterflies migrate there from south of the border. Students in geography, and science classes studied this migration and teamed up with a local business to help Nick design the space so it would attract and support the health of the butterfly populations in the area. The tech department at the school recruited their friends at a nearby high school to help cut the lumber and together they built raised garden boxes. These boxes were accessible for wheelchair users and therefore made the garden a place where anyone could enjoy the space. 

Most importantly, students with disabilities were included in every aspect of the project. They helped clear out the atrium, build the boxes, and planted seeds alongside their peers. Nick said,

“By being a part of the building, designing and gardening of this space, all students now feel a sense of contribution to our school’s culture and community spaces.”

Youth like Nick can inspire change when they take responsibility as active citizens and look for opportunities to improve the experiences of others. Schools are where youth spend most of their time and young people are the public eye in these spaces. Nick took a stand for inclusion by looking for ways to build community and by connecting people in that community in ways that broke down stereotypes of disability. 

The school’s community garden was not the only way that Nick showed social responsibility. He also networked with other youth, like Emily who lives in the county of Essex. Emily was also leading a community change project. Together, they approached their school board because they wanted a chance to share their experiences and inspire others to support their efforts to create change. The school board was planning a social justice conference and all schools in the board were going to be attending. Emily and Nick were asked to lead a workshop for students at this event. They were the only youth speakers at the event. 

Youth are the here and now. You have the power to set trends, change minds and challenge narratives! Get to know and learn from your peers who have a disability. Avoid doing things for people who have a disability. Instead, try to look for opportunities to stand with people who want your support to make a change. This is how we can work together to continue to close the gaps that exist in our society.

Questions to think about:

  1. What made Nick’s approach to inclusion truly authentic? 
  2. How do you think Nick’s school benefited from a project that included the whole school rather than just a few people?
  3. What strategies did Nick use to influence change in his school community? 
  4. How do you show social responsibility? What will you take from Nick’s experience that you can use in your school?

See more photos from this project.

Youth Take Charge M6.V1

In this video, you will hear from youth who are using their voices to draw attention to discrimination in positive ways. They know that teachers and other staff members are allies in helping to build more inclusive spaces in Canadian schools.

Youth in Canada are the “public eye” in their schools. They see and hear what goes on in their school. They have the ability to hold people accountable for their actions, speech and attitudes. 

Grow Your Consciousness for The Experience of Others

Take a moment to think about a typical day in your life. Write down everything you do from the moment you wake up to the time you go to bed. Think about the number of choices in a day you make for yourself. Think about what opportunities and freedoms you have throughout your day. 

Complete this exercise in the student workbook (handout M6.3)

Based on what you have learned in Modules one to six, how might the number of decisions change for someone who is institutionalized? What kind of choices were you given the freedom to make that would not be given to someone living in an institution or institution-like place?

Ex. At the last minute, I decided to have pizza for dinner instead of spaghetti.

Someone who is institutionalized would not get to choose what they had for dinner. Their meals are usually pre-planned, or made for them by someone else. Sometimes, folks do get to choose their meal, but the meal may not necessarily be prepared the way they would want to do it for themselves.

Something to think about:

In Canada, it is a human right to have a free and quality education. However, many students who have a disability are being robbed of this right. Today, many young people go to high school from the age of 14 to 21. Some people never graduate with a high school diploma because their courses do not earn them credits. In addition, they are unable to choose what classes they can take or even where they eat lunch. This limits their opportunities to make friends. Young people who have a disability in Canada are leading parallel lives to that of their peers because our school system is rooted in values of the past. The system is designed to keep people with disabilities separate from the rest of the student body. How is your day different from someone in Special Education in your school?

If You Really Knew Me M6.V2

We are all more alike than we are different. Here’s a short recap of the people you have met throughout this curriculum and what they want you to know about who they really are! How many things do you have in common with them?

Youth, Take Charge of Your Ideas!

You have now completed the first stage of your journey. Through your study, you have been a witness to the suffering and discrimination of Canadians who have an intellectual disability. You’ve discovered the historical evolution of institutionalization and understood the serious consequences of the actions of previous generations. You have also seen how change has evolved and how survivors, their families and allies have worked for decades to protect the human rights of Canadians with disabilities. Welcome to the movement!

With this knowledge you can now begin your own journey as an informed citizen. There are many ways you can help to create change. You can choose to use this information to change your personal perceptions and make more of an effort to get to know people in your community.

You can choose to learn more! We’ve only scratched the surface here. You can also choose to join in with others who are passionate about inclusion and be a part of community building efforts. No matter how you choose to move on from here, we hope you will do so with a greater appreciation for people and their contributions. We have a vision for a more inclusive Canada without segregation and institutional thinking. How will you join the fight for freedom?

Looking for ideas? Young people living in Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia participated in an oral history project and want to share their experiences with you. Click the link below to learn more about what fifteen youth across Canada learned from sitting down and talking with survivors of institutions. Perhaps there is an opportunity for your class to meet a survivor too.

Contact People First of Canada or Inclusion Canada if you are interested in learning more about having a guest speaker in your class. Remember, not all efforts around inclusion costs money! Help spread the word and find ways to share what you have learned. Youth across Canada are sparking a conversation on inclusion!

Now that you have completed the modules, are you looking for ways to learn more? If you would like to dive deeper and learn more about human rights in Canada, we encourage you to visit the Learn More page of this website. On this page you will find a collection of individual resources on important topics featured throughout this curriculum.

Join the Movement

Want to do something about what you have learned? Join a movement of youth who are working to make our schools and communities more inclusive for everyone.