Mission for Dignity

Film project spotlights experiences of disabled Edmontonians

It was a long four minutes for Roxanne Ulanicki – in fact, she describes it as “torturous.”

The disabled Edmontonian, who uses a wheelchair full-time, had just given a talk in a theatre in the city’s downtown. Her speech on human rights and disability drew enthusiastic applause, but instead of exiting the stage gracefully, Ulanicki spent the next four minutes ascending stairs on a wheelchair lift until she reached the “glass box” that is the theatre’s disabled-seating area.

“I have no dignity,” she says, taking herself back to those moments last summer. “The lift blocks the stairs, so everybody has to wait while I’m using it. And then I can’t sit with my family and friends.”

To take the “awkward” attention away from her, organizers started the next part of the event before she reached her seat.

The irony for Ulanicki was that the experience was no better than the first time she gave the speech, more than a decade earlier, at a theatre where there was no wheelchair lift and she had to be carried on and off the stage.

“It gave me the same feeling,” says the longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

“I gave the same speech – the only thing that changed was my age. Nobody’s asking us (how things could be built better).”

The experiences of Edmonton’s disabled are what Ulanicki and the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights want to spotlight with a new project called YEG Dignity: Amplifying the Voice of People living with Disability.

The project, made possible by a $10,000 grant from Edmonton Community Foundation, includes four public-service videos and a short film re-creating Ulanicki’s experience at the theatre. The films, produced in partnership with the Self Advocacy Federation and Voices of Albertans with Disabilities, will debut at 2018 Global Dignity Day on Oct. 17.

One focus of the project is how disability and poverty intersect. According to the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as are other Canadians.

“It’s almost a guarantee that if you have a disability you also live in poverty,” says Ulanicki, adding the reasons are wideranging, from the cost of equipment such as wheelchairs to many workplaces not being accessible for disabled people.

Ulanicki hopes the project will help empower people with disabilities so that things might be different “for the next generation of me.

“We’re tired of watching from the outskirts at the top of the stairs. We want to be included.”