Citizen Action Hall
The Citizen Action Hall in the Humanities Building at the University of Alberta nestled right in the hub of academia. The hallways buzz with students chatting and studying. The Citizen Action Hall itself looks like any other classroom but what takes place inside is pretty cool and unique.
Every Friday afternoon during the fall and winter semesters this past year, a new group appeared on the scene. Individuals with disabilities, family members, disability workers, University of Alberta students and researchers gathered together to explore the notion of citizenship. People shared stories, pondered ideas, imagined better futures, took pictures, made films, listened to guest speakers, and began to think of ourselves not just as citizens, but also as “citizenologists.” Assignments included people with disabilities and U of A students going out into the community and together documenting citizenship stories.
The moving stories from the Citizen Action Hall give voice to the universal themes that unite us all…. the need for love and family, the joy that comes from helping others, the thrill of learning about new places and ideas, and the strength that comes from belonging. These stories connect us as citizens who care about the world and about each other.
The Citizen Action Hall is part of SKILLS Society’s (www.skillssociety.ca) Project Citizenship initiative. It’s about enhancing the experience of citizenship for people with disabilities, and raising awareness in the greater community about the valuable contributions they make. The change agent we are working through is the power of story to inspire action, change and over turn stereotypes.
In June 2013 a two year partnership grant with the U of A’s Community Service-Learning program ended. We are seeking sponsorship to sustain this innovative approach to education and empowerment of people with disabilities.
Who Will it Benefit?
Benefits to Education
The Citizen Action Hall is an innovative ‘model’ of education. It creates an environment where people learn together on a level playing field – everyone’s contributions are valued as truth.
From the University perspective it connects students with a community organization to work collaboratively on Community Service-Learning projects that make a real difference in community. It has a research component, led by Academia at the University of Alberta, to explore how The Citizenship Action Hall and Project Citizenship can contribute to social change.
Benefits to Edmonton and beyond
SKILLS Society believes that everyone benefits when we are all included in our communities. The Citizen Action Hall and Project Citizenship demonstrate to the larger community how to cultivate a vibrant collective committed to the work of a building a civil society – strong inclusive healthy communities. (Local, national and international interest has resulted in new community partners who also want to work together to enhance awareness of citizenship, contributions and community connections).
Participating University Students come from a variety of areas of study. Exploring citizenship through the lens of people with disabilities positions these future leaders to influence change in the broader community.
Benefits to people with disabilities
The Citizen Action Hall empowers people with disabilities by providing opportunities to engage in meaningful and valued roles such as teachers, change agents and good citizens contributing to healthy communities.
At SKILLS, it has helped us to expand our organizational knowledge around how to better support people to explore their engaged citizenship journeys.
The real key to the Citizenship Action Hall is that people with disabilities are equal and active contributors. Their voices and stories, in concert with the stories of students, other academics and community movers and shakers, make invaluable contributions to changing our understanding of what citizenship means.