2022 In Review

I’m back!

I can’t bring myself to apologize for the hiatus – it was much needed, and I know if I went to put up some banner on the website I would just remodel the whole thing again.

(By the way, how are you all liking the new streamlined site? I didn’t mean to do it but as I often say when my brain and body do whatever they want, “I’m not controlling this thing”)

I don’t know how much I can call the hiatus a break – I’m pretty sure I almost died in November between the tour, International Day (more like week) of Persons with Disabilities, and exams, but December was spent actually resting surrounded by loved ones.

More on this later.

Life feels as crazy as I am – and 2022 was no exception. Don’t go using this against me, but my birthday is January 1st – and I genuinely thought I was turning 30. 

It wasn’t until my dad told me he was turning 61 (not 70) that I clued in on my extra 9 years left.

It’s not that this year was challenging or unbearable – it was just so jam packed with so many cool fun things it could have genuinely filled up 9 years.

So, I feel like the last year deserves a lil recap blog. I’ll share some of my favourite moments, reflect on some important lessons, and let you know what’s on for 2023! 

But before we get into the year behind us, I want to talk a bit about where we are now, and where we’re going.

I gotta be honest, I’m kind of exhausted. I’ve been working myself way too hard for way too long, and I know if I keep going like this I will probably end up living in a cave. Again, I thought I was turning 30 at 21. I’ve got some work to do here.

When I started this blog, it reminded me just how much I love creative writing. Then reality kicked in and I turned it into yet another job. In my ongoing effort to not burnout and/or die, we’re taking the blog back to the creative outlet and enjoyable hobby it was meant to be. 

Am I still offering trainings and consultations? Absolutely. 

Am I going to just write from the heart for a bit? You bet. 

But it’s so hard, balancing what is easy and what is needed. 

What you don’t see behind the scenes are the disabled youth in my DMs asking for advice to break into the advocacy sector, or the parents of disabled children telling me how my blog helped them unravel their ableism, or the conversations between two strangers as they bond over lived experiences similar to those shared in my blogs. 

And when I’m in a position where these things are possible, where this impact is possible, sometimes I feel so selfish taking a break. 

But, the world continues to move on without me, and countless incredible disability advocates continue to do such important work. Acting like the global disability rights movement rests solely on my shoulders isn’t just completely ignorant and egotistical, it’s dangerous for my mental health and wellbeing.

There’s a lot going on on the horizon – I’m continuing to break into disability circles in the public service, I’m continuing my international work with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, and I’m still going strong in my work at NEADS. I continue to wake up every day and do what I love for my jobs. 

As of now, I don’t have any major announcements. And sometimes, I’m afraid I’ve peaked too early. I’m afraid that if I don’t book some major international conference every year, I will become obsolete. 

These are all very big and mostly irrational thoughts and feelings I’ll continue to work through, and I hope you’ll join me on that journey. 

(This is the part where I say “keep an eye out for this blog”, but who knows if that blog will actually happen? Gotta keep ’em guessing!)

What I do want to focus on this year is community and connection. 

Disability advocacy cannot happen in isolation – I serve my community, learn from my community, live in my community, and love my community.

My disability reading list keeps growing, as does my networks. I’m learning about new concepts, new organizations, new movements that are propelling the global disability rights movement forward, and I’m energized by the direction we’re collectively heading in.

Before breaking into the recap, I need you all to know I literally had to research for this blog. Emails, IG stories, Facebook posts, LinkedIn updates, the list goes on. Memory issues aside, it’s been a long damn year! So, let’s get into it.

In the context of disability advocacy, January was the calm before the storm.

In the context of my real life, I lived through a white supremacist, conspiracy theory, alt right occupation of my city for weeks. Businesses shut down, I didn’t go to school in-person because they kept circling campus, and I refused to go outside. 

What happened in January was not a one-time thing – we’re still learning more about what really happened behind the scenes, and my fellow citizens remain traumatized. This is definitely killing the blog’s vibe right now, but the truth needs to be shared. 

News coverage of the occupation – especially in its first weeks, was incredibly biased towards the occupiers, and democratically elected members  of our government supported their violent, criminal actions. 

I’ll stop there for now, but please remind yourselves that political violence is alive and well in Canada. Fight hate wherever you see it, check in on your neighbours, and hold people accountable.

February was so incredibly busy on the disability advocacy front! (Editing Carly here: what a harsh vibe shift!)

I was invited back to uOttawa’s International Development Week to participate on their panel on the intersections of systemic inequality, and you can read my accompanying blog on it here.

I also attended the Global Disability Youth Summit on behalf on NEADS and CCD for a solid consecutive 24 hours.

I do not know who thought a 24-straight-hour conference was a good idea for anyone, let alone disabled youth, but I only dozed off for about 3 hours!

At GDYS, I learned about climate change in the Pacific region, institutionalization across Asia, humanitarian disaster response in the Middle East/North Africa, and mental health in Europe. 

This was my first ever international conference, and I was absolutely hooked. Learning from my peers around the world and networking with them was so empowering, and I’m still in contact with so many delegates today!

I also participated in an Accessibility Standards Canada Youth Roundtable for NEADS, where government representatives really took the time to listen to our concerns and took my arguably over-enthusiastic criticism all too well. 

This was the beginning of my arc towards seeing advocacy and disability allyship as a two-way street.

March was also incredibly busy. 

(At this rate, I’m afraid I’m going to open all the month summaries like this.)

In March, I launched this blog, and things took OFF! 21 (now 22) blogs, 2157 visitors, and 3781 views later, I want to thank everyone for supporting me on this journey.

What began as a creative outlet quickly spiralled into a whole business, and will hopefully become a creative outlet again.

In the same month, I began to notice how my relationship with my peers was shifting because of my advocacy work (you can read my latest blog on that here).

This really hit me as when I arrived at an inaccessible student centre gala, up a flight of steep stairs, I was greeted with an apology.

Was I going to most likely rip into these people later into the night? No! But I was going to be so incredibly disappointed in them. 

To date, they have not hosted another inaccessible event, and I know they were genuinely apologetic. Prevention is preferrable, but I’ll take sustainable change any day.

At NEADS, I hosted our third Virtual Access for All panel with disabled student leaders across Canada – this was such a refreshing and energizing experience that reminded me of how strong the disabled student movement is, and how important platforms to network and discuss our shared experiences are. You can watch the entire event here.

April was, yet again, busy. At this point, I have no choice but to open all the summaries like this.

I kicked off the month with an Instagram Live on self-advocacy, hosted by the Canadian Arthritic Patient Alliance and Take A Pain Check Podcast, and joined by fellow guest Anna Samson. 

While this was not my very first paid disability advocacy gig, it was my first after launching the blog. You can watch the live and read my accompanying blog on self-advocacy here.

Another event this month was a virtual accessibility webinar for NEADS, where I discussed accessible social media practices alongside some colleagues discussing websites and programming. You can check it out here!

I started publishing on The Mighty, a site I first found at 12 when I was struggling with mental health issues, and returned to at 16 when I was diagnosed with my first chronic illness. To come first circle and maybe even write a blog a 12-year-old finds some comfort in was such a profoundly impactful moment for me.

Speaking of profoundly impactful moments, this was the month I was appointed International Chair for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities! 

To work alongside the very people that fought to have disability included in the Charter continues to blow my mind, and I am so unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to learn from them and to start paying it back. 

CCD is always looking for fellow youth, so don’t be afraid to shoot me an email!

May was, you guessed it, busy! And while there weren’t events this month, there were some major milestones!

This was a BIG month for blogging: my blogs on self-disclosure, identifying as disabled, and consultations set an impossible precedent of three blogs a month. I do not know how May Carly did it, and I fear her.

In my work at CCD, I joined Global Affairs Canada’s disability in development working group alongside some incredible experts in the field.

I always look forward to these meetings, and am so grateful for them welcoming me in. In this working group, I really feel as though my youth has been celebrated and treated as the necessary perspective it is! 

It’s also allowed me to put my (ongoing) degree in international development to use, and it’s inspired me to specialize in disability in(clusive) development – shockingly, this sector is largely neglected, so it feels like there is a lot of work to do!

Job stability is great and all, but I really wish in this field it wasn’t…

I started my very first co-op in the public service and absolutely adored it.

I began seeing the federal government as an essential partner in disability rights, and it began to shape how I approach advocacy work at national and international levels. 

And, on top of it all, I found out I was selected as a Youth Delegate for Canada’s official Delegation to the 15th Conference of State Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I quite literally can’t type this out without welling up a little, but being selected as a Youth Delegate was so profoundly meaningful to me in so many ways.

I was and am so thankful to NEADS for nominating me and for giving me the confidence I needed to launch my advocacy career, to CCD for supporting me in my international work and reminding me of how the disability rights movement got to where we are today, and to everyone who has supported the blog and my advocacy work. 

And I was so incredibly lucky to be selected alongside Zoe Elverum and Paula MacDonald, who have taught me so much and are so unbelievably talented and knowledgeable and resilient.

I also had COVID-19 this month. Not fun.

In June, I went on AMI’s Now with Dave Brown to discuss the upcoming UN conference, and then I was there (virtually… but COVID-19 safety is COVID-19 safety, and health measures are disability justice.)

While the actual conference proceedings are important and impactful in their UN-y way, the real action happens in the side events.

I attended Canada’s youth participation panel featuring the absolute powerhouse Paula MacDonald, Inclusion International’s event on their Listen, Include, Respect guidelines for including intellectual disabilities in disability advocacy, Light for the World’s “Youth Changing the World of Work” event, a panel on meaningful disability participation without a single disabled person, an excellent UNFPA panel on bodily autonomy, and a moving event by Korean Association of the Deaf on the importance of sign language recognition. 

In all honesty, this experience was bittersweet. 

I had this incredible opportunity, but have to admit I was disappointed that my originally in-person attendance was cancelled. 

I was so excited to represent my country, but I also carried the weight of our country’s significant failures – we remain a pariah on the international stage, and that is not something I can take pride in. 

I was thrilled that the theme was meaningful participation and inclusion in society – but had to refrain from, respectfully, losing my shit when entire state delegations, panels, and events lacked disability representation. 

All in all, I left resolved. 

Resolved that I was going to spend the rest of my life ensuring Canada is no longer an international disability rights pariah. 

Resolved that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would become fully ratified within my lifetime. 

And resolved that I would contribute to this meaningful disability inclusion and participation, mainstreaming it into international relations and international development.

July saw me finally slow down (as if it could follow June!)

I fled my city in fear of another occupation on Canada day, and thus had a spontaneous and restful home visit. 

When I got back, I solo hiked in Gatineau Parc (you can read all about it, and the wild turkey encounter, here), saw General Idea’s moving exhibit on HIV/AIDS at the National Gallery, and hosted Disability 101 at my school’s Women’s Resource Centre to celebrate Disability Pride Month. 

I was working full-time on top of this, but I think I was realizing it was time to slow down.

August was both a time of wrapping up and starting fresh – which naturally my ADHD brain hated.

I quit my student association after a really disgusting show of ableism, and realized that what I had seen as support for my disability advocacy was merely appeasement or avoidance. That’s stayed with me.

I went home (this time on a planned visit,) and spent some quality time with family. 

I interviewed with the uOttawa Gazette for an article about my disability advocacy, and the photo selected continues to haunt me and freak me out. (Depersonalization when you do a lot of public facing work is nothing short of hilarious. I am half joking.)

And, I launched NEADS’ Back to School Campaign, which gave disabled students a platform to speak out against the incredibly ableist, inaccessible, and discriminatory back to school policies many universities were enforcing.

I knew this campaign had to happen after reading so many DMs and emails from students expressing their frustration, and sharing how alone they felt in fighting back.

While I may joke it was to say “I told you so” to any disabled student that felt alone, I really feel as though the campaign helped us weather an all-together god awful term. 

In September, I was busy at work fighting against inaccessible return to campus plans, busy at school living with the consequences of these plans, and busy in my advocacy work raising awareness of the impacts of these plans. 

I wrote a very from-the-heart blog about how frustrating it was to see my peers be excited about “going back to normal” while I was figuring out how to graduate without getting COVID or dropping out, and the student paper gave me a platform to raise concerns about the Fall 2022 term’s inaccessibility.

October was my most “normal 20-year-old” months yet. 

I celebrated my one year anniversary with my partner, went hiking during Fall Rhapsody, visited my parents in Kingston (we don’t live there, nice try stalkers!) and went on a school trip to Washington, D.C. (where I saw really, really cool stuff from the 504 sit-in – had to get something disabled in!)

And in November, one of my most “not a normal 20-year-old” months. 

I attended an event on feminist foreign policy at the Global Centre for Pluralism, skipping a mandatory class workshop to do so (because allegedly I am still a student), and experienced my first international relations open bar event.

Being 20 is great, but I’m not sure that’s a normal 20-year-old activity.

This month also saw not one, but TWO NEADS’ State of the Schools Tour stops! 

As part of my job (which continues to blow my mind,) I got to travel to St John’s, Newfoundland and Halifax, Nova Scotia to speak with other disabled students and give them a platform to share their thoughts, experiences, and concerns. 

For my job. 

At 20. 

I only wish I could’ve recorded my internal monologue while on the plane home after the tour stops, on a flight with free drinks. 

Right after the tour, it was International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) – which is really more of a week. 

I had the honour of representing NEADS at Minister Qualtrough’s IDPD reception, where I had to experience an in-person reception for the first time.

Fortunately, people seemed to be excited I existed off zoom and were thus very forgiving of all my little quirks and not-knowing-what-was-going-on-at-all-isms. 

Was being in the same room as the disability community’s leaders, MPs, ministers, senators, and the prime minister intimidating? Probably! I would like to thank my poor grip on reality.

And then, December.

On the disability advocacy front, my guest spot on I Am Not My Pain Podcast launched, and I delivered closing statements at Minister Qualtrough’s IDPD Virtual Youth Town Hall. 

Being asked to deliver the closing statement by the same team I worked on the UN conference with meant so much to me, and I really enjoyed learning from my fellow disabled youth advocates. 

Somehow, I managed to survive exams coming fresh off a tour and IDPD week. 

I lived off energy drinks and instant noodles, then went home where I realized how absolutely devastated my body was by this year. 

I learned I was turning 21, not 30, and tried not to touch anything work-related (save work at NEADS – you didn’t really think I was capable of a full cold turkey, did you?) for the rest of the year.

I still can’t believe all this was only one year. 

I don’t even want to go back and edit all of this because I’m overwhelmed at how much there is to go through. 

So, hard pass. I’m not being graded here. Perfectionism will kill me. 

I’m saying this as if I haven’t spent hours on this blog already. 

I’m not even convincing myself right now. I’m going to stop this tangent.

Editing Carly here: after doing the “editing” where I just section the blog out, I remain unconvinced by my own writing from mere minutes ago.

Future Carly probably remains unconvinced as well.

So, what did I learn this year? 

Factually, a lot. 

A lot about humanitarian disaster response in the Middle East, and how the Korean Deaf community remains ignored by their government, and how a lot of UN States could not cough up a single disabled member of government for a conference where the theme was meaningful participation. 

I learned a lot about professionalism – I’ve imposed a two drink maximum on professional outings and am figuring out when to mask and not mask (again, another blog for another day.)

I learned that you can have breakfast inside of an East Side Mario’s at a Holiday Inn in St John’s Newfoundland, and that you can never get too tired of Booster Juice, especially in airports.

I learned that I’m not the only disabled student that feels alone under the massive rollback of accessibility and disability rights across Canadian universities. 

I learned that I’m not the only disabled youth advocate that feels incredibly burnt out and afraid of peaking too early.

But above everything, I learned to slow down. I learned to listen. I learned to appreciate the moment, and the people, and the places, and the experiences. 

And that brings me to all the thank yous. For the best year, the best people, the best opportunities of my life – so far. 

As I’m learning to become more vulnerable, I’ve found gratitude is somehow the easiest emotion to express. So, please take the one emotion I can adequately express and run with it if you get what I mean.

Thank you to the NEADS team. To my boss Frank for hiring me and keeping me on. To the touring team for some incredible memories and for keeping me in one piece. To the #MyNEADS Community for showing up to our events. To the student groups who remind me that the work we do can be so impactful. To the students who showed up to the tour stops. To the NEADS Partners and Pals.

Thank you to Heather Walkus and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities for not just taking a chance on me as International Chair, but for standing by me and ensuring I have what I need to succeed in this role.  

Thank you to all the GAC Disability in Development Working Group members for being so welcoming, encouraging, and energizing. 

Thank you to the Fulcrum, the Gazette, Now with Dave Brown, Take A Pain Check, Canadian Arthritic Patient Alliance, The Mighty, and the uOttawa Student Union’s Women’s Resource Centre for giving me a platform.

Thank you to the internet strangers who have commented, emailed, and DMd me to tell me how my writing has impacted them. 

Thank you to my colleagues in the public service who have shown me that there is a place for me here, and that I am capable and empowered to make change both in my workplaces and across the country. 

Thank you to the Instagram mutuals who support my disability advocacy account tangents, and for showing me all the amazing ways advocacy can happen.

Thank you to anyone who has ever had a class with me for listening when I talk about disability in development, and for my incredibly forgiving profs when I miss so many classes.

Thank you to my friends who keep inviting me to things we both know I’m not going to, and who keep me in the loop online when I am nothing less than a hermit in person.

Thank you to my partner for your persistent support and encouragement, for listening to my rants and getting me hot water bottles, and for your family probably making up like half of my website stats.

Thank you to my family, to my twin for introducing me to advocacy, to my dad for treating me like a regular 20-year-old daughter, to my mom for managing to be enthusiastic without nagging, to my dog who humbles me by trying to kill me, and to my granny who recently subscribed to this blog.

Thank you to anyone who has read any of my work, attended any of my events, or has supported me in any other way. 

2022 is already over, but with that the 2022 recap blog is now wrapped. To a 2023 that only feels like one year!

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