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Your Leadership Toolkit
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Disability leadership is a non-traditional style of leadership that welcomes disability, and the change it brings to the meaning of leadership. Disability leaders follow, as much as they lead. They listen, as much as they talk. They understand their leadership to be interdependent – meaning, to be connected in close and various ways with other people and materials in the world. Disability leadership is not just focused on creating a better world for disabled people, but a better world for all people. There is an understanding among disability leaders that in addition to securing individual rights, we also have to work towards securing, maintaining, and advancing people’s collective rights.

This video was developed by leaders of the NextToLead project to bring awareness to the impact negative assumptions can have on disabled people.

As part of the NextToLead project, this webpage is a toolkit to be used by anyone interested in learning about, and creating leadership workshops or materials for use in their community. We provide, on this page, all the materials we used in our three-year disability leadership project to you for free. We encourage you to use these materials to encourage and foster the next generation of disability leaders in your community.

This Webpage can be used by:
  1. A community-based organization looking to fund and host a project similar to NextToLead

  2. A small group of individuals (2-3) interested in going through the steps of the NextToLead project on their own

  3. An organization or community group, interested in creating a workshop or new materials to help their members develop new leadership skills


Individuals or organizations who intend to use this material in workshops or sessions that included members of disability community should strive to make them as accessible as possible to those members.

Next To Lead


NextToLead was a three-year project focused on developing young disabled leaders (age 18-29 years) living in the Niagara Region. The project was a partnership between the Niagara Centre for Independent Living and the Department of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto and was funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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Leadership Quotes from Next To Lead Participants

“Since joining NextToLead, I have learned that I am not alone. I am also positive about the future. I learned how to set realistic goals and achieve them. I completed my undergraduate degree this year. I never thought I would be able to complete it. Everyone encouraged me…


Project Goals

1) Effectively engage disabled youth through exposure to disability history, art, culture and pride.

2) Build on-going intergenerational relationships between youth and mentors.

3) Increase the number of younger disabled leaders in the Niagara Region.

Project Team

Maureen O’Neill - Project Lead and ED of NCIL

Karen Yoshida, PhD - Project Lead and Professor at U of T

Fady Shanouda, PhD - Project Consultant

Jenna Cooper, Hannah Zettler-Graca, and Karen Whynot - Program Coordinators

Cathy Dennis - Program Assistant

Michelle Duncanson - Volunteer, PhD Candidate at U of T

The goals and programming for NextToLead were based on an initial project called Our Histories, hosted in partnership between the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT) Inc, and the University of Toronto. In Our Histories we interviewed 13 disability leaders in the Toronto area. The interviews focused on these individuals lifelong work to create and sustain access for disabled people in society. NextToLead grew from calls by these leaders for a new generation to take on the work of maintaining and advancing the rights and capacities of disabled people in the world.


To learn more about Our Histories visit, or to see interview segments with the leaders visit,

Project Principles

The project used a disability justice framework. To learn more about disability justice and what it involves, please visit,


Disability justice is important to use in community leadership work because it strives to do cross-disability (for example – d/Deaf, mad, neurodiverse, blind, physically disabled, etc.) and cross-movement (for example – environmental, anti-racist, feminist, anti-poverty movements, etc.) work that ensures members of the community are the leaders and organizers of their own movement. It also strives to take into consideration everyone’s embodied difference and ensure their participation.


To summarize, a disability justice perspective is focused on the freedom of all people and not just disabled people. Disability justice reminds us that there are connections between different forms of oppression (for example, ableism and racism) and that without fighting for the elimination of all oppressions, no one will be free.


In addition to a disability justice framework, this project also developed its own social justice principles that took into consideration the Niagara region and its geography, which is mostly rural, and with little to no access to accessible public transit. Disabled youth in Niagara also face barriers to employment, affordable-housing, and disability-identified social and community spaces. An article describing our approach to making this project accessible. will be available soon.


Things to consider for running any session or workshop:


Please consider reviewing the slide deck, linked here (Opening Slide Deck), to see how we start all our workshops with equity and access in mind.


*Please note that we narrate some our thoughts in the notes section of the slide deck.


This slide deck includes:

  • Title

  • Agenda

  • Workshop Objectives

  • Territorial Acknowledgement

  • Access Team

  • Access Check-in

  • Community Agreement

Other things that are important to successfully run some of your sessions include:

  • Food (consider asking for the dietary restrictions of the participants)

  • Covering the cost of transportation

  • And providing everything on the screen/slides also on paper.

    • Binders might include

    • Slides

    • Handouts

    • Materials

    • Glossary

  • Individuals may also wish to bring their own technologies, so consider also emailing all this material to participants so they can access it in a variety of ways.


Additionally, our project used “active learning strategies” to teach new material to participants. We exported these strategies from their place in the workshops and included all of them into one slide deck, linked here (Active Learning Strategies Deck). We believe that great teaching and learning comes from activating the learners in the room. Please review the collection of strategies and consider using them as templates for your sessions.


In addition to reviewing the activities we developed, also consider reviewing other active learning strategies,;


We would also encourage you to read Petra Kuppers’ book, “Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction”(hyperlink to resources page for full citation). It includes a wide range of examples, exercises, and activities that can help new learners understand disability more clearly.

Project Principles
Learn to Lead

Learn to Lead

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One of the most important parts of being a good leader is knowing the history of your community. It’s important to know who came before you, what they fought for, and how they were successful, or not, in achieving their goal. Learning about the history of one’s community ensures that we do not repeat past mistakes, advocate for change that already exists, or fight for something that might ultimately be harmful to the community. Leaders who understand the history of disability have a body of evidence to use when making political or legal challenges. It’s important that we, as a community, can show the extent to which disabled people have been included and/or excluded from certain experiences throughout history.


As part of NextToLead, we spent time learning about the history of disability globally, and about the history of the disability rights movement in the UK and in North America. The following four (4) videos, and one (1) slide deck takes you through the content we presented to the participants. In addition to the content available here, we also used many active learning activities, we’ve previous discussed, to ensure participants understood the core ideas (provide hyperlink).


We are also very grateful to Dr. Eliza Chandler, who presented about Disability Art and Culture to the youth. She’s graciously allowed us to share a PDF of the presentation she gave.

Slide Deck: Disability Art and Culture – Materials developed and delivered by Dr. Eliza Chandler of the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University (Eliza Chandler – Developing Disability Leaders.pdf)


We also introduced participants to some Toronto Disability Leaders by showing them videos of them speaking about their experiences.

Types of Mobilization


During our third planned workshop, we introduced participants to different types of mobilization. Mobilization (pronounced: mow-bill-eye-zay-shun) is another way of saying movement or action. It refers to the different ways we can do the work of making change. There are different types of ways we can make change. We introduced participants to four (4) different types of mobilization:


  1. Cross-movement mobilization

  2. Social media mobilization

  3. Social mobilization

  4. Legal mobilization


We then gave participants real-life examples of each type of mobilization.


The Disability Visibility Project (Listen to SoundCloud Clip #2 - ):

Identify an Issue
Visioning Exercise

Visioning Exercise


A visioning exercise is a way to get individuals or group to start thinking about what challenges, issues or problems they want to tackle in their community. It is a way to focus their ideas down into small and manageable goals and objectives.


NextToLead participants were asked to complete the following two statements as part of their visioning exercise:


“I dream of a community that…”


“Things that get in the way are…”

We provided participants with two colors of paper and black markers. They were then asked to write down their dream for the community on one color paper, and issues/gaps/barriers on another. Participants posted these papers on the wall. We asked participants to share more about what they wrote and why. We then organized the pieces of paper into larger groups, matching those with the same or similar ideas or goals. We narrowed the ideas down to three (3) areas of focus. They are:


  1. Disability awareness in the community


  1. Accessibility in the community


  1. The experience of applying and living on ODSP




Participants were asked to vote on which project they wanted to work on, indicating their first and second choices.


S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting


In their preferred groups, participants further develop their plans by creating specific goals using the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting process. (insert link to pdf of SMART script)


Work Plan and Group Agreement


We also provided participants with forms to complete a work plan and a group agreement. These help organize the project goals, and ensure that everyone understood their role in the project. It’s also a great way to start discussing how everyone will work with each other, what skills and experience people bring to the group, and what they need to make the process accessible and fun.



Community Issues


From the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting process, the participants developed three (3) main areas of focus, which eventually became three (3) community projects, with the following project goals:



Project Goal: To increase the visibility and acceptance of individuals with disabilities within the Niagara Region through a social media campaign and experiential learning workshop.



Project Goal: Increase awareness of the limitations of accessibility in the Niagara Region by organizing a community forum, seeking media coverage through social media and traditional media.



Project Goal: Inform the public on the challenges of applying to ODSP and the difficulties of living on ODSP as a young person in the Niagara region.

Work to Create Change
Work to Create Change

These three (3) groups were renamed:


1) Disability Awareness Group

2) AccessAbility in Niagara

3) The Ontario Disability Support Program – Youth Experiences


Over the next 5 months, with a budget of $1000 each, support from mentors and the Niagara Centre for Independent Living, the groups met their goals in the following ways:


Two groups, the Disability Awareness Group and the Ontario Disability Support Program – Youth Experiences, developed and produced videos:


Insert Don’t Assume video


Insert The ODSP videos


AccessAbility in Niagara gave presentations at: 1) Brock University’s Social Justice Forum - 2018 and 2) Ryerson’s Out Bodies and Mind conference – 2018


Here is a link to their presentations:


pdf of slide deck – ROBAM


Next steps for NextToLead include the development of a youth-specific Resource Hub at the Niagara Centre for Independent Living. We hope this space can be a site for young disabled individuals to meet, discuss, and learn new skills about disability leadership.

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