Red River College students helped shine a light on the challenges faced by those living with disabilities recently, by assisting at the first provincial election debate in decades to focus specifically on disability-related issues.
Students from RRC’s Disability and Community Support program served as volunteers at the Disability Matters Great Debate, helping to ensure as many people as possible were able to gain access to the event, held March 31 at the Norwood Hotel.
The debate was hosted by Disability Matters, a non-partisan public awareness campaign dedicated to ensuring Manitobans with disabilities can participate fully in election activities, promoting priority attention to disability issues in the election, and supporting Manitobans with disabilities in making informed voting decisions.
Candidates from throughout the province took part, including James Beddome (Green Party leader and candidate for Fort Garry-Riverview), Vanessa Hamilton (Liberal candidate for Brandon East), Kerri Irvin-Ross (NDP candidate for Fort Richmond) and Ian Wishart (Conservative candidate for Portage la Prairie).
The debate was moderated by CBC Radio One’s Marcy Markusa (herself an RRC grad), and addressed the five key priorities of the Disability Matters campaign: accessibility, fair wages, access to services, employment, and dignified income.
More than 650 people attended the debate at the Norwood, while another 350 took part at satellite sites throughout the province where the proceedings were streamed online. The debate was a cross-disability event attended by those with physical, intellectual and mental health disabilities, as well as their friends, families and supports.
The party representatives at the podium noted the event was the most well-attended debate they'd taken part in during the current campaign.
"It was great to watch the politicians' faces when they heard about the numbers of people who were at the venue and at various sites across the province," said one of the participating RRC student. "I think they were surprised by the numbers."
"The turnout was great, and brought more awareness to the parties about the importance of people [living] with a disability," said another. "They saw that people with disabilities should have a voice at the table."