Jun 10, 2019
The 2019 National Young Leaders Program Kicks Off in Vancouver
Launched by Fighting Blindness Canada in 2015, The National Young Leaders Program offers resources to young people living with vision loss, and provides opportunities for participants to build networks, strengthen leadership skills, and collaborate on solutions to challenges faced in the workplace. My name is Samantha Moore—you can read more about my story by clicking here—and I’m very happy to be Coordinator of FBC’s National Young Leaders Program, as well the Program’s Co-Chair alongside my friend Patrick Losier.
Each year the National Young Leaders Program brings together participants for in-person Summits across Canada, providing travel scholarships to cover the expense of travelling and staying for the weekend. These Summits are integral to the program, and facilitate interactions that lead to real insights, camaraderie, and concrete opportunities.
Each Summit also has a theme to get attendees thinking about what they’ll be able to take away from the event’s programing. After our 2018 theme—Finding a Rewarding Career—we wanted to shift our focus to address one of the biggest challenges we face in the workplace: stigma. Too often, employers make up their minds about what visually impaired people can and can’t do before giving us the chance to tell them about our skills, work experience, and education.
Last year was about challenging ourselves; this year is about challenging our employers. Our 2019 theme and social media campaign #SeeMeAs is about showing off every aspect that makes us whole. Rather then asking people what they see, we decided to show the world how we should be seen. I invite you to learn more about #SeeMeAs by visiting our website here.
The Summits are oriented around the idea that collective thinking and action are crucial, and that we have a better chance of challenging prevailing stereotypes if we work together. National Young Leaders participant Haamid Saifee summed up this idea perfectly: “Being an individual pursuing a non-traditional career in engineering, I believe these types of meetings where individuals like myself can sit down and have open discussions with others facing similar challenges are important. These discussions are critical for creating and inspiring one another to continue pursuing our goals without holding back.”
Traditionally, the Young Leaders Annual Summit has taken place in Toronto, but with an increasing number of participants across Canada, it was clear to FBC that the National Young Leaders program had the potential to grow. In 2019, thanks to support from RBC Future Launch, the program will be accessible to more Canadians than ever. This year, FBC will be hosting three Summits, the first of which took place this past April in Vancouver (the others will be in Halifax and Toronto: you can register by clicking here).
Young Leaders in Vancouver
In April, a group of young people from diverse backgrounds and industries met at the Blue Horizon Hotel in Vancouver. Although the Saturday afternoon portion of the Summit was more laid back, there was no shortage of stimulating conversation. After FBC’s President and CEO, Doug Earle, provided opening remarks, the weekend began. Alongside my fellow co-chair Patrick Losier, an articling student in New Brunswick, we kick-started conversations by getting the group to open up with a few icebreakers.
Next was the career panel, where Patrick and I discussed the challenges we face with vision loss, focusing specifically on what we deal with in the workplace but also touching on challenges in our personal lives. Joining us on the panel were Shaini Saravanamuthu and Jack McCormick, who co-chaired the Summit last year and were instrumental in getting the program off the ground in its early days. The advice that kept coming up on the panel was the importance of being as open as possible with your employers about your accessibility needs. Legally, you do not need to disclose your disability to an employer during the interview process; however, all panelists agreed that if an employer isn’t going to hire you because of your disability, then they’re probably not an employer you want to work for.
Later in the evening we heard from our first guest speaker of the weekend: Shawn Marsolais, founder of the Vancouver-based organization Blind Beginnings (you can read more about Blind Beginnings by clicking here). Being born with a degenerative eye condition gave Shawn a unique and relatable perspective on a range of topics, including parenthood and finding a career that aligned with her skills and beliefs.
The more career-oriented workshops took place on Sunday. RBC Future Launch employees Caley Novakov and Ralph Tsang led a workshop on personal branding for social media. The session allowed the group to discuss many different approaches to social media branding, including strategies for being effective on LinkedIn and Twitter. I had the privilege of co-hosting a workshop with Perry Mattfeld, the star of the new CW drama about a young blind woman, In the Dark, where we discussed the progression and representation of blind people in television and other media. Our conversations worked through some of the complexities of how blindness is portrayed onscreen, as well as opportunities for young people interested in careers in television.
Craig Faris, an Assistive Technology Intern at CNIB, ran a wonderful introduction to assistive technology, covering some of the different options available for accessible computer software. Craig went over classic programs like Zoom Text and Jaws but also brought to light some newer technologies, including apps like Be My Eyes, where volunteers around the world assist blind users through their phone cameras. Craig also spoke about his experiences using navigational tools such as Google Maps and his iPhone compass app while sailing.
Wrapping things up before our career panel was our Keynote speaker Donovan Tildesley, who is nothing short of a complete inspiration! An insurance broker and former Paralympic swimmer and medalist, Donovan had amazing stories to share and provided advice on how to challenge stigmas and be seen the way you want by employers and others. The career panel was inspirational as well, featuring Laura Bulk, Monty Lilburn, and our speakers Craig and Donovan returning to be part of this more open-ended discussion.
Later this fall we will be hosting Summits in Halifax and Toronto. These events are an amazing way for our community to stay in touch, access resources, and feel empowered. Every year, we are able to reach out to more and more people, and every year we meet someone who has never had the opportunity to meet others who understand some of the challenges they face. These Summits allow us to raise the limits that we have placed on ourselves after years of being told, “You can’t do this” or “Try something more attainable for your career.” More than anything else, the National Young Leaders Program shows us that we have some control over how the world sees us, and that together we can strive for the careers we’ve always dreamed of.
I can’t wait to see you all in Halifax and Toronto!
Coordinator/Co-Chair, National Young Leaders Program
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