Selkirk College Transitional Training students from across the region put together an inspirational three-day conference earlier this month that showcased the talents of differently-abled adults.
Called Branching Out, the conference featured 19 different presenters and 18 workshops between May 12 and 14 at Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus. More than 120 participants took part in the conference that was geared towards practitioners, instructors and families of adults with diverse skills.
Selkirk College Transitional Training student Natasha Bidinoff-Gardiner opened the Branching Out Conference at Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus with an inspiring and touching speech that had the audience on their feet.
The conference was opened by Nelson-based student Natasha Bidinoff-Gardiner who set the tone for the three days with her touching words.
“We didn’t ask to be born with a disability or to be physically injured or physically abused, but it happened,” Bidinoff-Gardiner told the audience gathered at Mary Hall. “We are judged and mocked. But instead of focusing on picking on each other’s weaknesses, why not learn to work together, accept each other and collaborate to make life beautiful.”
Bidinoff-Gardiner explained that the seeds for the conference were planted two years ago by her classmate Summer Clement who wanted to host an event that would deal with topics relevant to people with disabilities. In 2013, the Transitional Training classes – part of the Adult Special Education (ASE) Program – hosted the auction at the Selkirk College Gala and raised more than $12,000. It was those funds that helped provide the ability to host the conference.
“We wanted to prove to ourselves and to others how truly able we are, in fact how truly remarkable we are,” said Bidinoff-Gardiner. “We decided that rather than waiting for others to do for us, we would do for ourselves.”
Keynote Speaker Discusses Respect
One of the keynote speakers at Branching Out was Ean Price, an inventor, entrepreneur, board director, volunteer and founder of ICAN Resource Group Inc. Born with Muscular Dystrophy, Price discussed what self-respect and respect for others means to him as a differently-abled adult and how people can improve life through increased respect.
Ean Price was the keynote speaker at the Branching Out Conference that was held at Nelson's Tenth Street Campus earlier this month.
The conference featured workshops in massage, communication, fire safety, self-defense, entrepreneurship, dealing with stress, yoga, cooking and more. There was a gala banquet at Nelson’s Mary Hall, a dance and plenty of opportunities for social engagement.
“The entire event was inspirational for all because it was so positive,” said Allison Alder, the Chair of the Selkirk College School of Academic Upgrading & Development. “It will have a lasting impact in the community as the event’s inclusivity and the students’ capacity continues to ripple outward. Everyone had shivers and tears hearing first-hand what it’s like to live with a disability in our society. Many new bonds were forged and ideas hatched.”
Providing Skills and Building Confidence
Selkirk College offers Transitional Training classes in Nelson, Castlegar, Grand Forks and Trail. The classes enable adults with barriers or disabilities learn to participate more fully in daily life within their communities, including preparing for paid or unpaid work. With a mission to nurture interdependence and independence through meaningful learning, the program builds upon unique personal strengths, confidence, awareness and skills.
Bidinoff-Gardiner has been in the Nelson class for three years and has helped organize three major events during that time. The 22-year-old completed her core high school classes in the program and with a passion for singing hopes to be admitted into the Selkirk College Contemporary Music & Technology Program. The closing words of her opening address at the conference had the audience on their feet.
“We are hoping this information will soak deeply into your minds and hearts,” she said. “We want people to understand that we are part of this world, and we deserve to be respected and to be loved. Let’s not forget about the message of this conference and take up this challenge to make a difference to brighten the world.”
All four Selkirk College Transitional Training classes were instrumental in organizing the Branching Out Conference. Organizers were assisted by the generous sponsorship of Columbia Basin Trust, the Grand Forks Rotary Club and Community Futures Boundary.
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Natasha Bidinoff-Gardiner Conference Opening Speech
Welcome everyone to this wonderful event! We are going to walk together into a wonderful journey that I hope will inspire and change the way society views people with disabilities!
We are here today because two years ago, a classmate had a vision; her enthusiasm greatly affected us to take a challenge. This unique wonderful woman is Summer Clement! She is the reason we wanted to develop and host a conference dealing with topics relevant to people with disabilities or as we prefer to be called, differently-abled. We wanted to prove to ourselves and to others, how truly able we are; in fact, how truly remarkable we are. We decided that rather than waiting for others to do for us, we would do for ourselves. Last year we hosted the Selkirk College Gala raising over 12 thousand dollars. This was a huge amount of work, an amazing learning opportunity and was an extraordinary experience for all who attended. Finally, we had the money needed to host a conference. All of the students in the four Transitional Training Programs at Castlegar, Grand Forks, Trail and Nelson have worked for months to help Summer’s dream come alive.
This conference would never have happened if it wasn’t for how we think and feel about being labelled. Differently-abled people face unique challenges in their lives. There are many disabilities and some are more obvious than others. These disabilities affect our lives greatly, but at the same time, we can and do enjoy our beautiful lives. We long for what is the “norm” because our options are limited. We are often prevented from making the most of ourselves. Society judges us. Yes, we feel discriminated against. It feels like some weird racism directed towards us. We didn’t ask to be born with a disability or to be physically injured or physically abused, but it happened. We are judged and mocked. We have been called “useless.” We have been called “stupid.” We have been called “retards.” These words are bad enough on their own, but when they are put together they become: “You useless stupid retards.” These words do more than simply hurt: they destroy our self-confidence and rip us apart. Is it fair not having the chance to be accepted and belong in this world? Just because we have a disability, does not make us less human or less deserving of being treated equally.
We are not asking for a free ride. We know we have to earn your respect and our own self-respect, but please listen and hear our dreams.
“What is our purpose in life?” It’s such a broad topic!
Life is incredible and we are all a part of it and are all consumed by it. So really, what is life supposed to be? Cruelty and hatred or love and kindness towards each other? Hatred, in my opinion, is a disability. Why? Because people who live embracing and speaking of hatred don’t know how to love properly. It’s easy just to be pushed around, letting others rule over our lives. But how long will we allow that to happen? We are all differently-abled, so why don’t we use that to our advantage. Imagine a group of people; each person is an individual who has one part of the brain that is dominant in some skill like art, math, or language. Taking each dominant part and piecing them together would form one beautiful complete brain! Imagine what we could accomplish! So instead of focusing on picking on each other’s weaknesses, why not learn to work together, accept each other and collaborate to make life beautiful.
All these intense feelings led us to a creative journey that empowered us. That is what encouraged us to create a logo that represents us. We feel empowered to express our feelings because our feelings really do matter, just like everyone else’s.
The logo you see on the official college advertising was developed by the college Marketing Department in consultation with us, the students. They did a lovely job, but it didn’t quite match our vision. Therefore, the students developed this logo. You can see it on our blue t-shirts and on this green paper that says “welcome to our conference.” It is in your greeting swag bag. This is our official image. We hope it inspires you, as much as it does us.
The logo represents how deeply we embrace the idea that we need to be treated equally, to unite our hopes and dreams and share it with everyone. In the logo the roots are a solid base, providing all the rich nutrients that makes us who we are. It nourishes our growth. The trunk brings attention to us as people who have the right to own a measure of power. It represents an individual who is strong, but a heavy cage weighs down on the person, causing the individual to bend back. The trunk is fighting to stand straight under immense pressure from the cage. The cage represents how society restricts and shapes us, labeling and treating us more as infants than as capable adults. The branches on the left side of the tree represents society and how society does allow us to be something, more than just being useless and caged, but it also shows we are still held back by restrictions. We as differently-abled people are welcome to flit from branch to branch. We are thankful and appreciate all the supports that have been given, but we want something more. On the right side the birds represent us, showing we are taking flight to our dreams, where we can live and be in charge of our own lives. Depending on the steps leading to our dreams, we may fly straight from the cage or slowly build our courage to take off from the branches.
We are hoping this information will soak deeply into your minds and your hearts. We want people to understand that we are a part of this world and we deserve to be respected and to be loved. We didn’t choose to be differently-abled. We live with a variety of challenges every day, but that does not mean that we are worthless. Life is so precious, which makes life very important to protect. Life should be nurtured. I stand here today with everyone who faces the challenges of having a disability, including myself. And yes, sometimes people who are differently-abled are hard to work with, but without hard work there is no true reward in accomplishing something in one’s life. So let’s not forget, about the message of this conference and take up this challenge to make a difference to brighten the world.