Attending the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) Human Rights and Equity conference was an impactful and overwhelmingly informative experience.
Last summer, I registered as a BCNU student member, as membership is free for students. Shortly after applying for membership I became aware of the upcoming conference and decided I wanted to go. So, I sent in my application to attend the event and received the acceptance email two weeks before the conference. I jumped on a frantic but ultimately successful phone call with the BCNU Student Council Liaison, Teri (pictured below) who answered all of the questions patiently and with great kindness. I decided to take the relatively spontaneous trip and give the conference a try. I was excited and apprehensive to be balancing my first week of a new Psychiatric Nursing semester with such a big event and I don’t regret it for a second. I attended more than a dozen presentations over the course of two days and received far too many pieces of knowledge to share in a single post. I would, however, like to share some highlights from the BCNU’s event.
The Disability Solidarity and Moving Beyond Sentimentality as an Expression of Allyship presentation by Kim Sauder elicited the strongest emotional response in me. The speaker’s words resonated that living with a disability is a deeply personal and often challenging experience. Often people with invisible disabilities are accused of cheating, exaggerating, or capable of healing if they simply “try hard enough”. I learned many people with a disability are asked: what is wrong with you? Or they are asked to disclose their disability for the purpose of satisfying curiosity. What an unsatisfactory conversation that must be for all participants! There are also many barriers to accessing support. The process of government applications and concluding qualification for a subsidy, support, or accommodation can be ambiguous, frustrating, and requires repeatedly providing proof of permanent disability. In addition, health care across Canada varies from province to province and one service that may be available in BC may no longer be available if they move.
As an introvert and a relatively reserved person I definitely found the volume, both in the number of attendees and in decibels, of the conference was a challenge. I regularly took breaks in my quiet hotel room during coffee and lunch. I prefer to have silence or quiet time in between events to reflect on my thoughts and emotions, which isn’t always possible in such a setting. The constant barrage of noise and interaction was a lot to take in. However, the other attendees were kind and skilled conversationalists who invited me into conversations and solicited my input. It definitely made me acutely aware of how quiet of a person I am and how easily social others can be. The art of small talk will be one skill I’ll be practising before attending another conference.
What resonated with me was, is, and will be to make an effort to understand each individual’s truth and story, allowing the person to advocate for their own needs. Who knows better what they need than the person who is faced with barriers and stigma every day?
After careful consideration I know I will apply for this type of event in the future. The BC Nurses’ Union event pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a ballroom full of strangers. My anxiety was at an all-time high trying to balance coursework and the conference but the amount of information I learned over two days was incomparable. I have no regrets about taking on the extra stress and I made many happy memories on my trip. I have so many more skills, ideas, and thoughts as a result of attending.