A Positive Outlook for 2016

Every new year offers a wealth of new opportunities for everyone. It’s a chance for personal reinvention – a chance for self-discovery and exploration. It is during this time of the year where the saying: “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day) rings loud and true for us all. While we take the time to reflect on the previous year – the highs and the lows, the successes and the failures – we begin to stipulate how we can learn from the previous year and take all that we’ve learned to better ourselves in the new year. Already being a few days in to 2016, some of us are either on the path to self-improvement or still trying to figure out what that path looks like. Whether it’s the first day of the year of the last, there is no right person to be. It’s okay to be the person just figuring things out just as much as it’s okay to be the person who has figured things out already. As long as you’re moving forward and investing in yourself, you’ll be okay.

The new year offers many opportunities to accomplish self-discovery. You can try something new like water-skiing or enrolling in a course or adopting a pet. You can continue to do things you enjoy and are passionate about, like write or take long walks early in the morning or take pictures more often. Perhaps you want to challenge yourself and do something that is completely out of your comfort zone, like learn a new sport or perform on a stage or travel to a new country. Seize the day – seize the new year. Allow yourself to do what you love and what is familiar, while also allowing yourself to try new things that challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone.

While we set these goals for self-betterment in the beginning of the new year, we have the idea in mind that by the end of the year, we’d have already achieved what we set out to do in the beginning of the year. In our heads, by December 31, 2016, we have already become who we set out to be in January 1, 2016. If this was a perfect world, this is what would happen for all of us. Unfortunately, we are all flawed and we live in a flawed world. So it’s okay to not have things completely figured out by the end of the year. It’s even okay to still be figuring things out at the end of the year. There is no set time line to develop a Bette sense of self (and if you want my opinion, 12 months is not enough time). So don’t be so hard on yourself if you didn’t manage to go to the gym 5 times a week like you promised yourself, don’t be so hard on yourself if you still manage to procrastinate a little bit throughout the year – mistakes are a crucial part of this journey to self discovery. As human beings, we are entitled to slip up from time to time and that’s okay. As long as you continue to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and move forward, you’ll be okay. You never want to aim for perfection – you want to aim for growth.

Growth is vital when a new year starts. The only thing you don’t want to be doing for the new year is restricting your growth. You don’t want to be exactly where you were in 2015 – making the same exact mistakes and never learning from them, doing the exact same things and never learning anything or doing anything new. All these things limit your growth and as the years go by, neither you nor I get any younger. We owe it to ourselves to nurture our growth each year and make sure that this year, and the many years after, are used to develop yourself in as many ways possible.

Looking ahead into 2016, we have the world at our feet. We are free to do whatever we wish. Just make sure we use this free will and the promise of 2016 to make a positive mark on this world for you and for others.

2015 was a remarkable year for us all. Let’s make 2016 even more remarkable.


Blogging Inclusion

photo of a computer keyboard with a finger hitting a key which reads 'blog'

At its most basic definition inclusion means the act of being included. But who gets included, included in what, included where and how? Inclusion is a messy idea. An idea whose meaning for me maybe very different from your meaning. Part of this may depend on the different levels of privilege or oppression that are our starting points.

Inclusion is now a buzzword. Agencies and organizations all want to ensure they are providing inclusive opportunities for disabled persons. What does this means for those who are labelled as disabled? In some cases, it means buildings and spaces are now open to everyone, that services are available to those who require accommodation. Creating a society in which everyone can be included if they choose to is of enormous value but is being included in the dominant narrative what everyone wants? Social inclusion has become more about ‘a set of normative practices’ – about consumption and lifestyle, and identity – than the transformation of society. The emphasis is now being placed on the individual, and their social engagement and activity rather than the societal structures that create exclusion and marginalization.

So how can people speak back to this excluded process of inclusion? Storytelling and personal narrative is one way. The internet and blogging platforms have enabled some marginalized people to create their own space, an online community in which new forms of normality and inclusion can be shaped. Disable people have expressed their lack of desire and/or ability to reach the standards set by social inclusionary policy and practices by seeking out and developing other ways and spaces within which to experience inclusion. One disabled blogger, Agent Fang, writes, “originally when I started this blog, it was for the purpose of cathartic ranting. Rubbish hotels, dealing with my impairments, crappy employment experiences, you name it, I bitched about it. It was great. Another great thing was that a lot of other people were doing it too … I felt a real sense of online community with other disabled people. Blogging was a new craze and we owned a little corner of it.” (http://fangworld.blogspot.ca/).

While bloggers and their sites ebb and flow over time, the pronounced desire for an inclusive community outside of normative values does not. Blogs and communities like The Body is Not an Apology, Diary of a Goldfish, Ragged Edge, Blogging Against Disableism Day and Autistics Speaking Day – Taking Back Autism Awareness, to name a few, are some of the online communities who are alive and well who are forging pride online.

How to make your blog accessible

A computer screen text box which is titled "Image Tag Accessibility Attributes". Inside the box there is a space for alternative text and a long description. To the right are boxes for 'Ok', 'Cancel' and 'Help'. At the bottom of the box it reads "if you don't want to enter this information when inserting object, change the accessibility preferences"

Blogging is a great way to relieve stress, put your ideas, thoughts and experiences into the world, and it can activism at its finest. To ensure that everyone can access your work, however, you should think about the accessibility of your blog.

How a screen reader will recognize and read your blog is something you should consider. Depending on your audience you might also want to consider plain language as a form of accessibility. Plain language is writing which is easy to read and understand. It is clear, concise, uses short sentences. It uses a layout that is easy to follow.

You should also describe your images. This means that when a screen reader passes over the image it will read out the description you have written. You might think this extra step isn’t that important, but think about the effort that goes into choosing an image. Don’t you want everyone to be able to enjoy it?

Here are some handy tips for describing your image.

1. Brief is better.

2.  The usual rule is to be informative, not poetic. However, it’s your blog, so feel free to let your personality and writing style come through in the alt text.

3.  If the graphic includes text, put all the words in the alt text.

4.  Put the most important information first.

5.  Check your spelling and try to avoid abbreviations. Screen readers will mispronounce words that are misspelled and will attempt to pronounce abbreviations.

If you are using a site, like WordPress it will have a series of meta tags on the right hand side of the screen when you upload the image. The alt text is where you would put the image description. What if you are using Tumblr which doesn’t have this option. Don’t despair. Under the image, write out the description.

Some images are easier to describe than others. What about images that aren’t as easy to describe? Is it appropriate to mention body size, skin colour, ability status or sex? The blog, The body is not an apology which focuses its posts on radical self love recently wrote a post about why and how they describe images… “When we note race, body type, ability status, gender, or any other attribute in an image description, we do so only to provide a visual descriptor. We do not enter into judgments about attributes. If it is basic to the appearance of a person in an image, we will make it part of the description. Thus, when we post a photo of a large woman, we will refer to her as a large woman; when we post a photo of a man who uses crutches, we will note the presence of crutches; when we post a photo of a person with a visible scar, we will note the scar. We include these descriptors only for the purpose of clarity, and not to call attention to an attribute in order to interpret it or judge it.”

So next time you are posting a blog think about access for everyone.

Accessibility matters.

Writing as Meditation

Ali wings

The Uplift

This is my last blog entry for Ryerson. For the past two years, I have had the tremendous pleasure of having a writing deadline every week. That may sound like an odd sentence you should read twice because “deadlines” and “pleasure” do not usually go together. In this case, that Monday deadline was a great reminder that I should open my mind’s eye, slow down a bit and observe what was happening around me. The blog was a great excuse to do that. I wrote on such diverse topics as feminism, my favourite secret spots in Toronto and my local farmer’s market. It allowed me to ponder and examine one thing each week and explore my relationship to it. Writing is truly one of those things that, like yoga, leaves you more refreshed and energized for having exerted the energy even if you were feeling lazy before you began.

I also think blogs are powerful tools of self-expression and connection that are often looked down upon. I remember starting my first blog anonymously because off all the snide comments I had heard about “mommy bloggers” as though you had a nerve shoving your big wheeled stroller of an opinion out there in the public aisle and whining on about your kid’s diaper habits. I figured if there was space out the for inanity like Facebook, I wasn’t doing anyone any harm and in fact, I had a lot of people connect over the blog to share their appreciation or experiences from the shadows of their nurseries. I found it quite rewarding and was pleased when the chance to write for Ryerson came up.

At the same time, the risks inherent in handing the key to your diary to the world at large may come home to roost. At some point you might get censored. As some point you may offend someone. At some point, you may expose something of yourself you did not intend to. I have had some of these experiences in writing for this blog and also in writing The Mothering Skirt.  As social work students know very well, self examination can be quite painful. It can also be very therapeutic and sometimes even transformative. At the very least, to pause and reflect is a useful thing and sometimes an uplifting thing.

So I am thinking of taking copies of blog I have written over the past two years for the Faculty of Social Services with me on vacation next week. I suppose that might also sound odd but I am okay with odd. I think it might be a nice thing as my studies at Ryerson have come to a close and my children are two years older to reflect on what has gone on during the time I have been writing this. During this time, I have finished my degree, opened a school and watched my little boy grow from a very sickly baby into a strong young man while my daughter gathered momentum as a marvellous force to be reckoned with.

I am thankful for the experience and hope that stopping and observing will set in as a habit to become a practice that, like yoga, deepens the experience on this patch. Namaste.


Photo c. Holly Venable 2013