Lisa Coriale will probably not forget her first two experiences with the news media. Both were disappointing.
In one encounter, in 2007, she was described as if she were a superhero because she was about to graduate with a degree in social work.
In fact, she wrote about the experience a couple of years later in an article published by The Canadian Journalism Project and The Tyee. “. . . the reporter portrayed me as a ‘climber of a Mayan temple.’ He said I had been climbing pyramids since the day I was born,” Coriale wrote.
“In my view, receiving a social-work degree is something anyone can do. I was doing what I wanted to do. It wasn't something that should enable me to be elevated to a higher pedestal.”
In another encounter, a journalist described Coriale as being “. . . bound to a wheelchair, unable to move her limbs, her voice silenced by a severe form of cerebral palsy … ,” melodrama dripping from every sentence.
The thing is, Coriale’s voice is not silenced. Far from it.
She may strain to speak, like someone who has survived a stroke, and it may take longer to get the words out, but she has plenty to say and she isn’t afraid to say it.
Which is why — despite two, disappointing experiences with the media — she welcomed a reporter into her home earlier this week to talk about Disability Awareness Week in Kamloops.
The 33-year-old Rayleigh woman is determined to bring awareness to persons with disabilities.
“I don’t want it to be about me,” she said. “I want to help other people with disabilities in the community. I want it to be better for them.”
Coriale is a member of the mayor’s advisory committee for persons with disabilities, a citizens’ group that aims to improve accessibility and living conditions for everyone with a disability.
“I am proud to be on the mayor’s advisory committee and I think they have made many significant changes,” said Coriale, who joined the group last December.
But there is much more to be done, as Coriale has learned in her travels throughout Kamloops.
For instance, few downtown businesses have automated doors that can be opened by someone in a wheelchair.
One of Coriale’s two assistants, Sara Spada, accompanies her on outings and says most people wouldn’t be aware of the obstacles people with disabilities face daily.
“This is my first time being exposed to it and so you notice things,” said Spada. “For example, at TRU, to go into the Campus Activity Centre, the handicapped button for the door is on one side but the ramp is on the other side of the building. It just doesn’t make sense, accessibility issues like that.
“When you’re not exposed to it, you never think twice about it.”
As Disability Awareness Week gets underway on Monday, Coriale hopes more people will think about accessibility issues in Kamloops.
But, more than that, she hopes the week helps improve the way persons with disabilities are viewed.
Her advice to others: see beyond the disability. “Get to know the person first. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions; ask them what they want or need.”
By the way, Coriale is studying journalism at TRU. She said it was difficult to find a job in social work and so she plans to become a journalist, specializing in social issues.
She is due to graduate in 2014.
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FURTHER READING: To read Coriale’s 2010 article, entitled Don’t Write About Me Just Because I’m Disabled, visit http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2010/03/18/DontWriteAboutMe/