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Discussions about disabilities spark creativity, understanding in Red Deer students

Persons with disabilities share their experiences with young artists
Lindsay Thurber student Josh Loppe stands in front of his artwork. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Talking to a legally blind man who’s struggling to overcome prejudice stirred Lindsay Thurber student Josh Loppe’s creativity.

Loppe did a digital drawing of an ominous looking character with a helmeted head. Lightly perched on his extended, gloved finger is a delicate winged insect.

The artwork makes a statement about how outward appearances don’t define a person, said Loppe, a Grade 9 student. “It’s like, don’t judge people until you get to know them.”

This artwork, and many others along the theme of inclusion, were displayed in Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School on Friday, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Students also told stories, sang, and did performance art pieces based on the same theme during a special ceremony — at which Red Deer non-profit The Lending Cupboard received a community excellence award from the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

When trying to change societal attitudes about people with disabilities, it’s best to start by helping young people understand the issues, said Courtney Cook acting chair of the Red Deer Inclusion and Accessibility Network, which linked high school students with disabled people for discussions.

“The kids are the voice of the future… and I was blown away by their art,” Cook added. “It shows they have a great understanding and ability to empathize.”

J.R. Bjornson, who was born with a vision impairment, spoke to Loppe about his difficulties landing a full-time work. Potential employers notice his white cane “and I don’t get any phone calls…”

Although Bjornson has successfully held down jobs in broadcasting and as a cashier at a fast-food chain (using a tool that works like a digital microscope to enlarge print on the register), he believes most employers can’t get past his disability.

While Lindley Hrabok’s cognitive problems aren’t as visible, but she has also experienced bullying and discrimination. On the positive side, Hrabok said she’s met people willing to give her a chance.

She’s been working at Home Depot for more than seven years, with help from an advocate. Hrabok also volunteers with the Red Deer Inclusion and Accessibility Network, where she’s inspired by many of the members — ranging from people in wheelchairs to those with speech impairments.

At Friday’s ceremony, Dawna Morey, executive-director for The Lending Cupboard, expressed excitement about her group getting a provincial award. She spoke about being moved that someone who borrowed medical equipment from her non-profit submitted the nomination.

This reinforces “the impact we have on people’s lives,” she added.

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Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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