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Neads Visionary Leadership

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Jennison Asuncion is Vice President Internal and Frank Smith is National Co-ordinator of the National Educational Association of Disabled Students.

Celebrating fourteen years, the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) stands as one of the only nationwide, consumer-based, cross-disability student organizations in the world. Conceived at a meeting of enthusiastic student leaders and their supporters in 1986 in Ottawa, NEADS' primary objective is advocating for full inclusion of students with disabilities both in postsecondary education and the all important labour force. We accomplish our work via constructive dialogue and collaboration with all levels of government, along with our partners in higher education, employment, and the broader disability movement both hear in Canada and increasingly abroad.

Over the years, NEADS has made issues such as financial assistance for students with disabilities, alternative formats for textbooks, the recognition of invisible disabilities, and developing a national best practices model for delivering services on campus, top priorities. Of course at our core is the overarching desire to empower students to advocate for themselves, either singularly, or as part of grassroots groups in their communities or on their campuses. This is exemplified by an ongoing project in which we have organized leadership forums at schools across the country, in which a panel of leaders open up a discussion on issues of importance to students with disabilities. In small groups, participants problem-solve, sharing and exchanging experiences. As a final bi-product of the meetings, students come up with recommendations directed at us as an organization, in terms of where we need to go next. Our upcoming forum will be held at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, which will be chaired by Holly Bartlett, our Nova Scotia Representative, who happens to be blind.

Holly, is one of a number of examples of how NEADS has benefitted from the contributions of blind/vision-impaired student leaders over the years. Since our inception, we have played a valued role, from Board level representation, straight through to the Presidency. In fact, each of our Boards of Directors have had about forty percent representation by blind/vision-impaired students. Readers might be interested to note that Richard Marion was once British Columbia's Representative on our Board, and chaired the successful Vancouver National Conference in 1990. More recently, our Past Newfoundland Representative, Corinne Gough served, and our current Quebec Representative, Susan Vida, continues to serve in the important post of NEADS Representative to the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), of which we are a member group. For her tireless work in the disability rights movement, Corinne was a recipient of a CCD National Award in 1999. For her part, in addition to holding the post as CCD Representative, Susan has made working for the recognition of students with learning disabilities by the province of Quebec, her top priority.

Our current board counts four students, among whom, two, Jennison Asuncion, Open Representative, and Mary Anne Duchesne, Territories Representative, are completing their terms as Vice President Internal and Secretary/Treasurer respectively. A two-time recipient of a CCD National Award, Jennison's work includes the management of one of our most exciting initiatives, (www.neads.ca), our fully accessible home on the Internet. Its accessibility is due in large part to the work of our past Webmaster, Victor Marques, and his successor, Chris Gaulin, both of whom are vision-impaired.

As the above clearly illustrates, the leadership and active participation by blind/vision-impaired Canadians has been, and will be one of the cornerstones of NEADS success into the future. Only by involving ourselves in the cross-disability movement, can we have the chance to fully appreciate the needs and concerns of fellow students with other disabilities, while assuring a voice for ourselves at the table.

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