Photo C/O Disability Justice Network of Ontario

By Saad Ahmed

The Disability Justice Network of Ontario is a new Hamilton-based organization dedicated to addressing issues faced by the city’s disabled community, with the hope to scale the organization across the entire province within the next three years.

Two of three of the organization’s co-founders, Sarah Jama and Eminet Dagnachew, are McMaster alumni, and the third co-founder Shanthiya Baheerathan is a current student at the university.

The initiative launched on Sept. 13 to a full house at the Hamilton Public Library auditorium. The co-founders opened the launch by outlining the organization’s values.

“Our mission statement is to build a just and accessible Ontario where people with disabilities can thrive and foster meaningful relationships, build community, and learn skills meaningful to all people, communities, and organizations,” said Baheerathan.

Last year, the co-founders were approved to receive a Trillium grant over 36 months to create and run the network. Jama, an activist and recent McMaster graduate, hopes to bring the community together to help make individuals with disabilities heard.

“We’re all about building community and personal political power. People with disabilities haven’t been treated as though we have the capacity of a community, which is why implementing things like accessible spaces is very hard to this day,” said Jama. “This is why we hope to build a community and collective power to help address the isolation faced by people with disabilities.”

The network hopes to be unique from other disability services offered in the city.

“There are a lot of services that already exist for people with disabilities. We want to uniquely position ourselves in that landscape so that we don’t have any service overlap or reproduction. We’re in the process of mapping out those services and organizations to ensure we can have the highest possible impact,” said Baheerathan.

The initiative will be led by the co-founders and volunteers and will partner with other organizations in Hamilton to make the most of the network’s capabilities.

“We hope to do programming, education, activism, advocacy events and research. Community consultation and focus groups will be held to figure out what our needs are,” said Jama. “Workshops will be held for schools and service providers to help build spaces that go beyond accessibility and assist in integrating disability justice into their practice.”

At the launch, Baheerathan also announced the creation of the network’s Youth Advisory Council.

“We don’t just want to focus DJNO around adults with disabilities. If you’re a young person aged 16-29, identify as having a disability, and want to get involved in disability justice organizing, the DJNO Youth Advisory Council is a great way to make your voice heard and learn about community justice organizing, as well as develop skills in public speaking, event planning, advocacy, research, and much, much more,” she said.

Although their plan is to expand the network across Ontario, the organization is currently only focused on disability justice in Hamilton. As outlined on their website, Hamilton has one of the highest percentages of people with disabilities in Ontario.

“By launching DJNO in our city, we hope to service our community and build momentum to expand this movement,” reads a statement on the network’s website.

Whether it is advocacy, education or programming, the DJNO hopes to be community-informed and community-led. If you have any questions or concerns, you can reach them at info@djno.ca

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