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It’s a New Dawn: Playing Rock Music and Learning about Ableism

Girls from the DAWN camp pose together.

“Greta was no stranger to danger. They could not believe they had to go back to the 21st century. But they were here on a mission: to dismantle the patriarchal and exclusionary systems of oppression.

You see, Greta was from the year 3000, where society developed so that people born with disabilities could freely navigate in the world and thrive in it. Women with disabilities were considered to have a sacred and unique perspective on the world.”

These are the opening lines of a futuristic story on ableism used during a workshop at Rock Camp for Girls and Gender Non-conforming Youth (RCFG*) in Montreal.

It’s a hot, balmy Montreal summer and for one week, girls and gender non-conforming youth from the ages of 10 to 17 have taken over the 8th floor of Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business music department. RCFG* doesn’t just teach guitar riffs, drum beats, and piano chords, they also make space for youth to gain confidence and understand social justice – especially as it relates to racism, feminism, queer and trans issues and of course, disability.

The Disabled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN) partnered with RCFG* to make this rad, one-week musical camp one that is as friendly and inclusive as possible to girls with disabilities, while also teaching youth who don’t identify as living with a disability what it means to be allies to their young friends living with disabilities.

DAWN is a national, feminist, cross-disability organization that provides opportunities for self-determination and leadership development for girls and women with disabilities. Our mission is to end the poverty, isolation, discrimination, and violence experienced by all Canadian women with disabilities and Deaf women by centering the most marginalized among us.

Learning Allyship

Leah is 14 years old. As a first-time RCFG* camper, she listens intently and participates in the DAWN-run workshop on ableism. Greta – a character DAWN created to tell the Back-to-the-Future-like journey of dismantling ableism – teaches the campers about why everyone should care about ableism.

Before going to sleep that night, Greta thought about all the work that needed to be done. Whenever they felt worried, they pulled a piece of paper out of their pocket that said:

“Understanding disability and ableism is the work of every revolutionary, activist, and organizer – of every human being. Disability is one of the most organic and human experiences on the planet. We are all aging, we are all living in polluted and toxic conditions and the level of violence currently in the world should be enough for all of us to care more about disability and ableism.”

 – Mia Mingus

This idea is what drove them, and they would work ceaselessly until the day, which they knew was undoubtedly coming, where all people would know this message.”

Leah left the workshop feeling like an important ally to her friends living with disabilities.

“Something I learned [in the workshop on ableism] is, not only should you be there to help and support friends with disabilities, it’s also important to not speak for them, but to give them the space to speak for themselves,” she said.

“I also think it is important to talk about ableism because even though it may seem like things are better for people with disabilities, there is always learning and work to be done to help people with disabilities have better, more accessible environments, and shift non-disabled people’s perspectives about disabled people away from pity to power.”

In a room parallel to where Leah learned about ableism and allyship,14 year old Siobhan was participating in a caucus discussion on disability.

The caucus on disability is meant to be a safe space for all the youth who identify as living with a disability at camp to come together and share their needs, wants, frustrations, fears, and desires from a place of solidarity across disabilities.

As a youth who says she has a complicated relationship with an invisible disability, Siobhan says the disability caucus allowed for youth and adults with disabilities to share their struggles.

Jasmine, another camper who also participated in the disability caucus, says: “Not everyone experiences disability the same way. I only have the experience with my mental illness so it was interesting to see how others lived with their disabilities.”

Tuning Up Against Ableism

At the end of the week one of camp, all the youth were ready to rock on stage!

Songs composed, lyrics learned, chords rehearsed, and tempo and rockstar outfits on point, the girls performed with their bands. And the knowledge they gained during camp permeated in their song lyrics.

As the band, Counting Sheep, sings in the song they composed:

You can be who you want to be.

And if you like, you can come with me.

No sexism!

No racism!

No homophobic speech! (3 x times)

Fantasy.

Fantasy world.

You and me

You and me will fly so high

In the sky

Fly so high with you

Girlhood can be tough, especially for girls and gender non-conforming youth with disabilities, but by building an understanding of ableism and how to deconstruct it, these rockstars are hitting the right note.

This is the tenth post in our Confidence Stories series in partnership with Always®. Confidence Stories features stories, tips, and ideas for supporting girls and building confidence. DAWN is a grantee of the Canadian Women’s Foundation through our Girls’ Fund Network. DAWN-RAFH Canada and Y des femmes Montréal are collaborating to create accessible programming for girls with disabilities and Deaf girls


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