Leading Change for Future Leaders: Interviews with Regional Coordinators from the CFDC

The Canadian Feminist Disability Coalition (CFDC) is a 30-month systemic change initiative interested in promoting equality for women and girls with disabilities by supporting them in their capacity and advocacy for leadership. Partnered with various organizations, such as the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN), the CFDC addresses the substantive gaps and barriers that currently exist in policy and practice for women and girls with disabilities. For more, see our previous blog post, which contains an Interview with Siobhan Grant, Project Coordinator of the CFDC, or visit the University of Guelph news article introducing the CFDC.

Individuals on the CFDC team experience and are familiar with the same barriers as the women and girls they support. To provide a sense of what these individuals do and how they lead change in their positions, Siobhan Grant, the CFDC Project Coordinator, conducted interviews with Tamara Angeline Medford-Williams and Maggie Lyons-MacFarlane, two CFDC Regional Coordinators. 

Tamara Angeline Medford-Williams

Tamara is pictured smiling with her left hand on her hip in front of a clean beige background. She is wearing a maroon dress and has dark-toned skin. Her dark brown hair has been partially tied into a bun on top of her head, with two locks left out to frame her face.

Tamara Angeline Medford-Williams (she/her) is a community enthusiast and servant leader at heart. Her lived experiences of overcoming adversity inform both her academic and professional trajectory. Tamara Angeline is Director of Black Community Initiatives at the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada (DAWN Canada), while working part-time as a clinical educator, family caseworker, podcaster, and radio host. She has completed a certificate in family life education, a BA in human relations, and a graduate degree in youth work. As she currently pursues her master’s degree in social work, her goal is to continue serving individuals, communities, and organizations by offering services that are grounded in anti-oppressive, intersectional, and culturally responsive frameworks. 

Maggie Lyons-MacFarlane

Maggie is pictured smiling in front of a scenic view. Their brown hair is tied back, and the sun is shining down on their light-toned skin. They are wearing sunglasses and a black T-shirt, with a silver necklace around their neck.

Maggie Lyons-MacFarlane (they/them) has played an active role for over a decade in the cross-disability community as an advocate, consultant, and educator. Holding a master of arts in education with a focus on critical disability studies, Maggie spent over six years volunteering their time to fill various positions for the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) and is currently with the association on a one-year term as past chair of the volunteer Board of Directors. In late January 2023, Maggie joined DAWN Canada as the Research and Communications Coordinator and remains passionate about civil rights, social action, and education. Looking forward, Maggie is always seeking opportunities for research, workshop design, public speaking, educating, and consulting.

How did you become involved in the Canadian Feminist Disability Coalition and what motivated you to join? 

Tamara: DAWN Canada has a longstanding partnership with the University of Guelph through Dr. Deborah Stienstra, Director of the Live Work Well Research Centre, and connected with our organization for this project. There are several reasons that motivated me to be a part of this important work, one being that I am a racialized woman diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. Furthermore, I know firsthand how difficult it can be for marginalized groups, who already experience multiple forms of oppression such as systemic racism, powerlessness, violence, exploitation, etc., to identify as having a disability, as this often creates further barriers for us and increases stigmatization. It is also much more difficult to advocate for ourselves and others when we don’t have the necessary tools or are not supported to do so. Therefore, joining the CFDC meant having the opportunity to connect with participants who are treated as insignificant on the basis of their identities and social location, to be able to invite them into brave spaces where they can be empowered to advocate for themselves and others, receive appropriate supports, and be provided with the necessary opportunities to excel. 

Maggie: I was contacted by Dr. Deborah Stienstra to see if I would be interested in the Atlantic Regional Coordinator role. I was motivated to join by the fact that it meant that I could put my skills, education, and background within the disability community to good use. The job market had been less than favourable, so I was doing a large number of freelance supporting project roles. Adding the Atlantic Regional Coordinator role to my work at the time was the best decision for me in the long run.  

What specific role do you play within the CFDC and what responsibilities does that entail? 

Tamara: I am the Quebec Regional Coordinator of the CFDC, and my responsibilities consist of recruiting and supporting participants, sharing necessary resources and opportunities, and working alongside the CFDC advisory group and other regional coordinators to prepare, coordinate and implement regional, national and transnational activities.

Maggie: At the beginning, I was solely focused on my role as Atlantic (NB, NS, PE, NL) Regional Coordinator and recruiting prospective members to my hub. I joined my fellow hub coordinators in Ottawa for the “More than a Footnote” Policy Forum near the end of 2022. Little did I know at that time that the networking and connection efforts would have a huge impact for me. This year, at the end of January, I joined the DAWN Canada team full-time, where I am still the Atlantic Regional Coordinator, but also the Research and Communications Coordinator for DAWN. In my ongoing role as CFDC’s Atlantic Regional Coordinator, I work to engage with my hub on a regular basis. This has included several rounds of recruitment efforts and establishing a two-way street of sharing information with and receiving information from my hub. The majority of my hub members are very active in their communities.    

What unique challenges do you face as a member of the CFDC and how do you address them? 

Tamara: I believe one of the most prominent challenges as a member of a disability organization is to ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to accommodate, include, and understand the needs of our members. One approach we use to address this challenge is to ensure that their voices are heard and used to inform organizational policies, culture, work environments, content, and programming. This has been achieved by adopting a collaborative approach. 

Maggie: I find this question difficult to answer. Given that I have worked within disability organizations and have played active roles in community engagement over the last 20 years, I don’t see challenges—I see advocacy, activism, service navigation, and helping others in a similar lived experience to myself as a way of life.    

Can you share a success story or accomplishment that you and your team have achieved through your work in the CFDC? 

Tamara: Through my work with the CFDC I have been able to expand my reach and connect with various individuals and community organizations. I have had opportunities to share our work in spaces that have been void of disability discussions, and I have been able to spread awareness of the barriers and issues that racialized and non-racialized women, girls, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals living with disabilities face. 

Maggie: My hub has met a few times and engages over email a fair bit. Being able to bring women with disabilities together from across four provinces is something long overdue and is a great achievement in and of itself.  

How does the newly formed feminist disability organization differ from other disability organizations, and what impact do you hope to have through your work?  

Tamara: I appreciate how the CFDC is focused on working with the most marginalized and oppressed populations living with disabilities, including women, girls, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals who are racialized, Deaf, and have experiences with institutionalization (i.e., formerly incarcerated, foster care, group homes, child welfare), etc. We cannot do feminist work if we are not adopting culturally sensitive and intersectional approaches. These frameworks help to achieve an appropriate representation of diversified members, as their lived experiences not only will inform our work and research, but also will allow us to have a more in-depth understanding of the methods required to meet their needs and goals. 

How does the CFDC incorporate feedback and input from the disability community in its planning and decision-making processes?

Tamara: As the saying goes, “Nothing about us, without us.” As a Regional Coordinator of the Quebec hub, it is my duty and responsibility to collaborate with my members and to include them in any decisions we make that will impact them. This is done by connecting with them via email and meetings, and by sending surveys to receive their input and feedback on pertinent matters. The Quebec hub members have mentioned that this is the approach they prefer and expect, as it makes them feel valued and it solidifies the understanding that what we are doing is for them and must therefore be tailored to their needs and wants as well as to the vision of the CFDC.

What advice do you have for individuals who are interested in getting involved in disability advocacy and activism? 

Tamara: I strongly suggest all those interested in getting involved in disability advocacy and activism do so NOW! With the deteriorating state of social policy, funding cuts to relevant programming for marginalized groups, and the plethora of social issues that envelop oppressed communities, this work and the world require more individuals who are called to care for and help others.

Maggie: Know what all your options are for getting involved in the area that interests you most, and don’t limit yourself to just one opportunity until you find your passion and drive. Finding what you’re most passionate about is how you move forward in disability-related advocacy and activism. Maybe you have vision loss and have the option to consider volunteer roles between CNIB and CCB, or possibly within your region, sitting on cross-disability advisory boards for transportation.