Farzan Ustad in Richmond students launch program to help peers with disabilities

Three Richmond high school grads have developed a student program to educate and raise awareness about disability-related issues in the younger generation.

Inspired 2 Uplift (I2U), founded by MacNeill grads Farzan Ustad, Ali Azhar and Aidan Gibbons, focuses on tackling the stigma around disability and creating a more inclusive environment for students.

“We felt there’s always been a lack of communication between students with disabilities and students from the regular school. Just how we interact with each other and all those societal norms and stigmas,” said Gibbons.

“We felt it was always unfair to always put the stereotype on a community that has never really talked to or able to experience or be able to communicate and interact with.”

In April 2022, the trio, then in Grade 11, initiated I2U as Mission Unstoppable, initially focused on raising awareness for people with disabilities. They later pivoted towards offering concrete support to students in their school’s life skills department.

“We wanted to not only advocate and talk about these stigmas but to also show physically what we will do to erase them,” explained Gibbons.

The buddy program, offered in partnership with the life skills department, allows students from the regular school program to mentor and build connections with those in the life skills program who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Through the program, students work one-on-one to offer mentorship and support through different indoor and outdoor activities every week.

“The administration loved the idea because it’s something that has never been done before, at least in the Richmond School District,” said the trio, adding that making an impact on MacNeill’s students spurred them to work harder to raise awareness about the experiences of people with disabilities.

“I think the main disconnect has always been that… it’s always hard to connect with people that you don’t see every day. It’s normal human behaviour and we want to bridge that gap,” added Gibbons.

“It really comes down to giving us the ability to familiarize ourselves with the life school students and make them feel accepted not just in the life skills wing, but in the MacNeill community.”

Another co-founder, Ustad, said they are looking to expand the program to help other students globally.

“We want to eventually become a non-profit and an organization that supports students globally,” he said.

“We don’t know when we’ll get there, but we know that it is our goal to impact countless lives and not just in Richmond.”

I2U has since raised $300 for the Disabilities Rights Fund to empower people with disabilities in developing countries. The program has also donated more than $500 worth of school supplies to students at MacNeill secondary and Mitchell elementary schools.

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