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Hamiltonians Forming Disability Justice Network of Ontario

The Disability Justice Network of Ontario, while based in Hamilton only for the time being, will launch Sept. 13. by Carmela Fragomeni
The Hamilton Spectator

From left to right: Shanthiya Baheerathan, Sarah Jama, and Eminet Dagnachew have formed the Disability Justice Network. – Disability Justice Network

A new Hamilton network aimed at empowering the city’s disabled residents is set to launch in September, with an eventual goal of expanding across the province in three years, to “build a just and accessible Ontario.”

Co-founder Sarah Jama says the three main focuses are to help people with disabilities thrive, build power, and have “personal and political agency.”

The network, although in Hamilton only, will be called the Disability Justice Network of Ontario and will launch Sept. 13.

“Over time, we’ll get a good understanding of the issues here and expand outward after three years, hopefully,” she said.

Jama, 24, and her fellow co-founders Shanthiya Baheerathan, 25, and Eminet Dagnachew, 27, have been given a $207,800 Trillium grant to launch and run the network for 36 months.

Jama, an activist, and Dagnachew, a social worker, are recent McMaster University graduates, while Baheerathan is a student there.

Apart from the co-founders, the organization is a volunteer one that will be networking and partnering with other organizations, and will have a youth advisory group, said Jama, also the program co-ordinator at the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI).

Although the Trillium Foundation description of the grant says the project is “for racialized youth living with disabilities in Hamilton,” and despite the network being led by young adults, Jama said the Disability Justice Network is for everyone in Hamilton.

She said it is focused on Hamilton for now because “the needs here are so high.”

The network will not take on individual cases and issues, but rather, will work on collective issues and causes. For example, it wants to ensure justice for the disabled by working beyond legislation to create a sustainable system of support.

It will however, refer people to services in the community for individual cases.

Jama says Hamilton is the city with the largest population of disabled persons in the province, according to a 2010 city report.

The city report, based on the 2006 Canada census, shows 20 per cent of Hamilton’s population self-reported a disability, compared to 19 per cent of the province’s population.

The network office will share space with the HCCI at 140 King St. E.

Disability Justice Network of Ontario
Launch: Sept. 13, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Spice Factory, 121 Hughson St. N.
Free, but for accessibility purposes, register at Network number: 905-906-3566.

Carmela Fragomeni

Carmela Fragomeni is a reporter with the Hamilton Spectator. Email:
905-526-3392 | @CarmatTheSpec

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