Dr. Al Condeluci, a global activist and CEO of Community Living and Support Services, Pittsburgh, led a dynamic Social Capital Symposium at UTM to talk to community service providers as well as UTM faculty, staff, and students about the importance of inclusion in creating stronger communities.

Attendance at the symposium, held on Friday afternoon, was by invitation only; about 80 people gathered in the Faculty Club, where Dr. Stuart Kamenetsky, Associate Chair of the Psychology Department, made opening remarks.

“We are obligated to repairing the world, not just the individual,” said Kamenetsky in his speech.

Condeluci then spoke briefly about how his cousin Carol, who had Down Syndrome, inspired him to begin to fight for the rights of those with disabilities. He spoke about looking beyond personal differences, building bridges, and looking to change the world so that it values individuals with disabilities, rather than excludes them and mitigates their disabilities.

Social capital was at the centre of Condeluci’s talk. Condeluci emphasized the need for more opportunities for people with disabilities to engage with others on the same level so that commonalities and similarities may be found. This way, said Condeluci, it is the accommodator who is changing, and not the person with the disability. He added that among those without disabilities, attitudes are shifting and broadening about what is “acceptable”.

“I would like all members of the UTM community, whether they are faculty, students, or staff, to actively contribute to making UTM a more inclusive community by accepting differences based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability,” said Kamenetsky in an interview. “We need to actively reach out to less well-connected individuals and work hard to include them in the UTM community.”

Kamenetsky pointed out that inclusion is not as novel an approach as most people think. According to the ancient Hebrew Bible, said Kamenetsky, “it is incumbent upon us to repair the world (rather than the individual), hiring someone (inclusion) is better than providing charity (keeping people excluded), saving one person is akin to saving the entire world (the task can seem overwhelming but if each of us get involved and help one person, the world will be a better place).”

The event was sponsored by UTM, Community Living Mississauga, and the Interdependence Network.