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Aklavik's Carly Sayers does not let her disability define her
Trailblazing NWT youth shares their stories in book of narratives

Emelie Peacock
Northern News Services
Saturday, August 26, 2017

Carly Sayers is a young woman with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder who is not about to let her disability define her.

NNSL photograph

Connor Beaton, left, Jacob Kudlak, Alannis McKee and Sasha Clouston are four of the trailblazers behind Voices for Youth: Northern Narratives on Disability. The publication features 12 youth from Yellowknife and across the NWT, telling their own stories of challenges, successes, hopes, dreams and their daily lives lived with a disability. - Emelie Peacock/NNSL photo

The 24-year-old Aklavik resident said she has met the challenges of the disability she lives with head on, the main hurdle for her now is how others look at and judge people with disabilities.

"Our disability is the first barrier," she said, adding it is up to people with disabilities to work through this. The second barrier, the more difficult one, is judgement from the outside world.

"People tend to look at us and say we can't do anything for ourselves," she said. "People tend to see us as just that, just our disability. They don't really see what's behind the disability."

Carly is one of twelve young people from the communities of Aklavik, Hay River and Yellowknife who are sharing their stories for the first time in the publication Voices of Youth: Northern Narratives on Disability. It is a publication founder Alannis McKee wants every MLA and every member of the Department of Health and Social Services and Department of Education, Culture and Employment to read.

"I think that a lot of the time we talk about disability, we are talking about early childhood or the aging population. There's also not a lot of resources that talk about disability in a Northern context," she said.

The narratives, told in an question and answer format, illustrate some of the difficulties youth in the North face. While the 12 people live with different developmental and emotional disabilities, many echo challenges of finding employment, getting around, dealing with self-isolation and finding acceptance.

For young people in the communities, McKee said there are virtually no resources compared to Yellowknife. One contributor, Jenna Aitken, relocated from Hay River to Grand Prairie because of isolation and a lack of work and volunteer opportunities.

Sayers would like to see more counselling in Aklavik, but she added she is able to access some services through the local health centre and has found some work opportunities as well.

The young people sharing their stories in the book are adamant the focus not be solely on doom and gloom, but also perseverance.

Connor Beaton, a 19-year-old living with autism, said he's faced a tough time learning and getting good grades, but wanted to tell his story about making the honour roll and finding employment after high school.

"One of the best things about putting ourselves out there is that it just shows we're not afraid to show what we went through in life and how much we've grown," he said.

For people who don't know about FASD, Sayers urges them to read the book and understand before they pass judgement.

"I would like to say to them, study before you say something back. Study what the disability means and how it can be overpassed," she said.

For the youth living with disability, Sayers has words of encouragement she shares in the book. "Make a living out of yourself. Don't just stay home in doom and gloom. Suicide is not an answer as well. Just keep living and doing your best," she writes.

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