With International Day of Persons with Disabilities around the corner, disability justice activists in Hamilton through the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) decided to host the first Disability Justice Unconference: Momentum.

Community organizer Sarah Jama pointed out that the “unconference” is one of the very few events aimed at commemorating the annual date designated by the United Nations.

The event is sponsored by Laidlaw Foundation and the Equity and Inclusion Office at McMaster University.

“Justice for people with disability is never really on the forefront of conversations around equity in this city.… This conference is meant to bring people together, talk about the history of the disability justice movement and talk about the future of the movement in Canada,” said Jama.

Jama, a recent McMaster graduate who has served two years as the Ontario Director of the National Educational Association of Disabled Students and founded the McMaster Students Union’s accessibility-focused peer support service Maccess, hopes that the conference will bring people with lived experiences, as well as their allies, together to brainstorm the next steps for tackling issues in the disability community.

The full-day conference is set to take place Dec. 1 at the Lincoln Alexander Centre and features workshops, talks and community forums created by activists, community members, academics and service providers from all across Ontario.

“We are bringing people together, who are mostly youth, to discuss the future of the disability justice movement. It’s the best way to decide the next steps,” explained Jama.

“You can’t make change without building that foundation from learning from one another,” said Jama.

“Justice for people with disability is never really on the forefront of conversations around equity in this city.”


Sarah Jama

The event’s welcome address by Associate Director at the Centre of Independent Living in Toronto and former CBC producer, Ing Wong-Ward, is followed by thirteen diverse workshops that attendees can choose from.

The workshops aim to start conversations on the experiences of persons with disabilities and identify the current needs of the community to work towards envisioning the next steps.

Current McMaster students Alex Wilson and Shannon Balfour are hosting a workshop titled Re-imagining Recovery: A Historical examination and interactive chat on what recovery has, does and can mean.

Ottawa-based community organizer, Jen Roy, will be introducing attendees to self-defining disability documentation and care planning.

Other workshops focus on sexual violence against people with disabilities, mental health and barriers to academic accommodations.

Jama also hopes that Momentum will be an opportunity for attendees to explore the disability justice movement and the history of violence against persons with disabilities in Ontario, such as the institutionalization of thousands of people with disabilities until 2009 at the Huronia Regional Centre (formerly known as the Asylum for Idiots) in Orillia, Ontario.

The devastating accounts of physical and sexual abuse, forced sterilization and death of children at the government-run institution is not often taught in schools, let alone addressed in our community.

The day also includes lunch time focused conversation activities, artistic performance by Hamilton-based writer and actor, Rex Emerson Jackson, a community forum and a final keynote address by Sarah Jama.

“What I like about this conference is that it’s not people without disabilities talking off about what needs to be done, its people with disabilities from across the province deciding what’s important to them and what they think should be talked about and what knowledge they want to share,” explained Jama.

“In a way, it’s about giving power back to people with disabilities.”

Momentum strives to create a community for individuals to share their experiences and work together.

Attendees will build relationships and leave with not only a sense of belonging in the movement, but a family of people willing to help work towards positive social change.

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