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Past EVENTS / Making Space: Stories of Disabled Youth (Part One)

Making Space: Stories of Disabled Youth (Part One)

A two-part online storytelling series exploring the past and present of disabled youth in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Teenage years are often thought of as a time for exploration, rebellion, and asserting individuality. This program explores that pivotal period of life through the lens of Disability.

Making Space: Stories of Disabled Youth in the GTA is a two-part online storytelling event series exploring the past and present experiences of disabled and chronically ill youth growing up in Toronto. Featuring personal narratives and artwork, this program is a space for recognition, solidarity, and celebration, exploring how the landscape for disabled youth has shifted over time


In the not so distant past, it was common for disabled people to live their lives in institutions. In fact, the last government run institutions for people with intellectual disabilities in Ontario did not close until 2009.

This storytelling event will bring to light stories from the 1960s-1980s as calls for deinstitutionalization and disability rights policy were gaining momentum, and an activist movement towards community living was gaining ground.

This event is part of a two-part online storytelling series. To watch the second event please click here.


Ophira Calof (She/They) is a multi award winning Disabled writer, performer, and producer. Her work weaves together music, comedy, and storytelling, centring disability and chronic illness experience. They co-created the sketch revue Generally Hospital (Canadian Comedy Award Nominee, Patron’s Pick, David Seguin Memorial Award for Accessibility in the Arts), and her musical solo show, Literally Titanium, was developed through the Buddies in Bad Times Emerging Creator’s Unit before premiering at the 2020 Next Stage Theatre Festival. Ophira also works as a curator, workshop facilitator, consultant, and keynote speaker with projects including COVID-19 through a Disability Lens: Storytelling and Filmmaking Project, the RAFFTO annual comedy night, We’re Not Waiting: A Photography Exhibition, and Bad Dog Theatre’s 5th annual Our Cities On Our Stages Diversity and Inclusion Symposium.


Fran Odette has been working in the area of social justice and equity for approximately 25 years. Her work has had a particular focus on issues impacting women with disabilities and Deaf women. While in her position as Program Manager at Springtide Resources, Fran worked alongside Cory Silverberg to create and implement the Sexuality and Access Project, an initiative offering information and workshops designed to address the connection between violence prevention through healthy sexuality and sex positive programming.

Fran comes to this work from her own lived experience and as someone who is committed to advocating that people with disabilities live their lives with self-determination and agency. She works closely with service providers working with people with disabilities to ensure that programs reflect a human rights perspective, which include working from a place of respect and dignity. She has delivered workshops on healthy relationships and violence against people with disabilities to audiences both provincially and nationally. Fran is currently, part-time faculty in the Assaulted Women and Children’s Counsellor and Advocate (AWCCA) Program and teaches a critical disability course entitled Disability Discourse: The Experienced Life at George Brown College.

Fran has written and co-authored journal articles related to gender, disability and violence, as well, she co-authored with Cory Silverberg and Dr. Miriam Kaufman, a book entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability – For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain and Illness” (*Cleis Press).

Frank Hull is an established, professional artist who proudly lives with cerebral palsy and madness, embraces his Mi’kmaq heritage, and celebrates his gay identity. Originally a choir vocalist, over the past fifteen years Hull has distinguished himself as one of Canada’s most prominent power wheelchair choreographers and dancers. He more recently expanded his repertoire to include live and digital performance. Hull’s artistic practice is multidisciplinary, consisting of varied, vibrant works in dance, theatre, music and media arts. His artistic vision is to reveal the impacts of trauma and oppression on the body while positioning “deviant” bodies as a source of aesthetic appreciation, beauty and enrichment. Hull’s dance works have been presented several times at ART WITH ATTITUDE (Toronto) His most recent work includes contributing to “Access Me.” A play developed by the Boy’s in Chairs Collective Toronto.

Heather Willis Born in Toronto, Heather has been an accessibility advocate since she was a teenager growing up in an institution for disabled children. In the decades since, she has served on numerous committees and boards dedicated to the equity and full inclusion of persons with disabilities and currently sits on the board Tangled Art+Disability. Heather is a graduate of Ryerson’s School of Disability Studies, and has a post-graduate diploma in Disability Studies from the University of Leeds. In 2010, following a 25 year career at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Heather joined Ryerson University as it’s inaugural Accessibility Coordinator. She leads Ryerson’s accessibility initiative, “ACCESS RYERSON”, with the goal of identifying, removing and preventing accessibility barriers for all members of the Ryerson community. Heather lives in Toronto with her husband of 37 years and their cat Charley. She is passionate about disability arts and enjoys reading, puzzles of any kind, kayaking and hanging out at her cottage in the Kawarthas.

Peter Park known as a ‘godfather’ to the People First movement, Peter believes in positive change and has seen many of his visions for inclusion become reality. He was institutionalized for 18 years of his life and firmly believes that no people with intellectual disabilities should be living in an institution. Peter has received several awards and honours for his volunteer and advocacy work including the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his significant contributions and achievements towards inclusion. Peter lives in Toronto with his wife of 32 years, Rhea, and continues to work for the rights of all Canadians with intellectual disabilities.

Shahnaz Stri is a middle aged South Asian lesbo, living in Toronto. They are a social justice activist that believes strongly in community activism. They volunteer for the Toronto Bike Brigade and The People’s Pantry Toronto, delivering groceries, meals and other necessities to Toronto’s vulnerable population. They have a chronic illness which impacts everything in their life. Shahnaz has been self-advocating for themselves since they were 13 years old and is often referred to as a non-compliant patient, because they question everything about their care. Most people who see them, don’t see their disability. They think they are seeing an able bodied person, so they make assumptions.

Tracy Odell is a life-long advocate for independent living and the right of people with disabilities to live in the community. Tracy has assisted in founding numerous supportive housing programs with attendant services, is credited with the establishment of “Nurturing Assistance,” has published articles and appeared in videos to raise awareness of issues relating to disability. She has a Master’s degree in Critical Disability Studies, and received the John Lord Participatory Action Research Award for her Major Research Paper, “Not Your Average Childhood.” Self-managing her attendant services, Tracy lives with her husband in Scarborough. They are proud of their two grown daughters and granddaughter, who have inherited the advocate gene.

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Making Space: Stories of Disabled Youth (Part One)

11 Mar 2021


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