Raising Disability Awareness to Next Gen RRC Students

Joanne Kelly in front of Red River College Princess Campus

Joanne Kelly is a Journalism Instructor at Red River College’s Exchange District Campus within the Creative Communications department. For almost a decade she has taught first-year students ‘Journalism’, second-years ‘Broadcast Journalism’, as well as ‘Understanding Canadian Society’ that will soon turn into ‘Professional Development’ and cover soft skills outside of Journalism.

Recently, the program underwent a big renewal where they heard from industry professionals and the feedback was to tighten their focus on video and writing skills. To accommodate industry demands and streamline the program, they added more writing courses, dropped some electives and increased more emphasis on digital.

This year, she had a second year class of 54 students who were specializing in various fields; Advertising, Public Relations, Journalism, and Media Production. “They will be working in all areas of Communications,” she says.

Prior to working at RRC, Joanne had been involved with SMD for years when she was a host/producer with Shaw TV. “I did a lot of human interest stories over the years,” she exclaims. “I covered Wheelchair Hockey tournaments, Drop Zone and hosted the Dancing with Celebrities fundraiser.” After realizing her students did not have a big enough grasp of understanding people in the community with disabilities and how it would impact them as communicators, she reached out to SMD and got in contact with Heather Hiscock.

Heather is the Coordinator for our Community Education and Training program where she provides workshops to businesses and organizations throughout Manitoba raising awareness on disability and making their environment more accessible. “I was excited about the opportunity to speak with the students,” she says. “I tailored my two-hour workshop so it would be relevant to them and came down with my co-worker, Omar, who works out of our Ethno-Cultural program, as a Cultural Resource Facilitator.”

They started by handing out forms that were in another language and told the students to fill them out. “It was very impactful,” Joanne says. “It shook their confidence and got them off-balance a bit on what it must be like to be someplace where the communication is not directed at you.” Then, the students took hearing tests followed by a discussion around invisible disabilities and language. A great example that was shared was of Terrence Parkin, an Olympic Deaf swimmer. The barrier was actually not being Deaf, but instead, that Terrence required a strobe light that flashed at the same time as the buzzer went off to start the race.

When asked about what other light-bulb moments the students experienced, she adds, “I think for a lot them, the biggest things that stood out were not the obvious needs such as a ramp for someone in a wheelchair or making an accessible bathroom…I think it was that none of them ever thought about barriers on websites before. Especially since all of them create websites and have projects online…and I supervise these projects,” she laughs. “It had never occurred to me that they need to have alt-text, audio and various other accessible requirements. It was hugely eye-opening for all of us.”

Additional highlights were realizing their audience is more diverse than they originally thought and the importance of providing varying accessible forms of communication. “It was surprising just how many people have a disability and the broad range of what that means.”

Currently, there are nearly 175,000 people in Manitoba with a disability. That's almost one in six people. “What a force they are market-wise!” She stresses. “I wanted to highlight the importance of knowing there is a whole world of people out there that might not be getting the message.”

This workshop had a very positive impact on Joanne’s students. It is extremely important that the next generation of industry professional’s know their role and how it relates to accessibility as they embark on their career in Communications.

To book a workshop at your business, school or organization Click Here!