Melissa Lyon New interview


Alexis: Welcome everyone, my name is Alexis Folk and I’m your proud host of the meeting where the People Podcast. Today. I’m pleased to introduce Melissa Lyon. 

uI first met Melissa at the BC Cerebral Palsy Association workshop this February when I heard her story, I thought, “oh my gosh, I need to have her on my show.”

Melissa has a university degree in the area of inclusive education, and she is also she also practices martial arts. Great job, Melissa! 

Melissa happens to have cerebral palsy and epilepsy. 

She’s truly amazing. Welcome to the show Melissa. 

Melissa, tell us a little bit about who you are. 

Melissa: All right, thanks Alexis. I would like to start by thanking you for having me on your show. I’m so impressed with you and your podcast idea. What a great way to create awareness about disabilities and inclusion. So, a bit about me…I am twenty-six years old and I  was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy when I was one. My cerebral palsy affects my speech, fine motor, and gross motor skills, but I try not to let that slow me down. 

My epilepsy is my biggest challenge though, because I have not yet been able to get my seizures totally under control. Luckily, they are small seizures mostly in my face so I can still work and do stuff – they are just a pain in the neck – literally! 

Outside of work, my interests include karate, puzzles, video games, walking, and expert Lego. I have a real passion for advocating for people with disabilities and trying to create more inclusive environments. 

Alexis: Awesome me too! 

You are working on a black belt in karate. How long have you been working at this for? 

Melissa: A great question. I started karate 8 years ago, when my school was offering an adapted karate class for people with disabilities. I absolutely loved it! From that experience, my family helped to open a dojo and I have been doing karate ever since. We now have 17 members, several of which have disabilities. 

Some of the karate moves have had to be adapted for me because of my cerebral palsy, but I have been very lucky to have two senseis that are very open to trying to make karate as accessible for me as possible. In fact, I earned my brown belt during the pandemic, so I am now working on getting my black belt. My goal is to get my black belt by the time I am 30. 

Alexis: Melissa, you have a degree in special education. Why did you choose this path in education? 

Melissa: Great question. Yes, I have a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Victoria and a Master’s degree in Special Education that I got from Vancouver Island University. Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to be a teacher. In fact, there are photos of me as a five-year-old holding a chopstick for a pointer on a blackboard teaching a bunch of my stuffed animals. There are several people in my extended family that are teachers, so I came by that path naturally. 

As I grew older, facing the challenges that come with having a disability, I realized that one way to make the world more inclusive is to be part of the solution… So I knew I had a passion for creating inclusive environments and advocating for people with disabilities, but I wanted to back up my passion with the necessary knowledge to teach others about disabilities, inclusion, and accessibility. Special Education seemed a great way to pair my love of teaching with my passion for making a bit of a difference in our world.  

 Alexis: Awesome, Melissa. I hope to become a psychologist and get a degree through the University of Victoria as well, because they seem accessible. 

Melissa: That’s awesome! 

Alexis: Tell us about your university experience. Was it accessible to you? 

Melissa: Uhm,  interesting question. For the most part, my university education was enlightening and positive. Like any place in society though, there are people who embrace inclusion and those who aren’t quite there yet…. I think that we still have a ways to go before people are fully accepting of the differences that come with having a disability, but I believe that through education and just having people like you and me, Alexis, enrolled and present there, giving it our best, are ways that we can get there.  

As far as accessibility at university, adaptations were sometimes necessary…I remember being in a lecture hall trying to get down the stairs to present on the stage and there were no handrails, so I struggled with getting to where I needed to be. I think that universities are really open to being accessible, but I had to learn to become a strong advocate for myself and speak up if I needed adaptations or saw inequities in the system. 

Alexis: Nice me too. As matter of fact I actually interviewed my Superintendent. 

Melissa: Cool.  

Alexis: How has your life experience prepared you for your current careers, Melissa? 

Melissa: Being a person with a disability, I have encountered several people throughout my life who haven’t been the most inclusive and I have also encountered physical spaces that weren’t always accessible to me. These experiences have given me empathy, knowledge, and the motivation to make the world more inclusive and accessible. I currently have three part-time jobs where I can share my life experiences as I work towards my goal of being a strong advocate for inclusion and accessibility. 

I work at the University of Victoria as a Learning Experience Designer for Accessibility, where I help to spread awareness about accessibility and inclusion and make resources and courses more accessible to all students. I also work at Capilano University in Continuing Ed., where I teach two online courses related to inclusion, diversity, and accessibility.  

In addition, I work at the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC, where I am a disability consultant, blog writer, and Facebook moderator. In fact, right now, I am very excited about a Resource Guide that we have created for families and people who have cerebral palsy. We are having virtual launch events across Vancouver Island to celebrate the completion of this guide and the first one actually is tomorrow. If anyone is interested in finding out more about these resource guides and/or the launch events, please see Cerebral Palsy Association of BC’s website or their Facebook page. 

I think that my life experiences as a person with a disability, along with my education in the field of special education, have prepared me well for all of these jobs that I absolutely love! 

Alexis: What does it mean to be a disability consultant? What does that entail? 

Melissa: THat basically means, like I create awareness about disabilities, just try to share my story as much as possible and, like, creating resources for people with disabilities. That kind of thing. Basically, in a short sentence, just, uh, spreading awareness and trying to make the world as inclusive as possible.   

Alexis:  When teaching others, are there any priority pieces to access, inclusion, diversity and universal design you like to teach first before other parts primarily? 

Melissa: Great questions! From my work on a team at the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC with an amazing mentor named Jessie Sutherland, I have learned that before trying to make change in people, it is always best to build a sense of belonging in the group. I think this is done by identifying, recognizing, and using people’s strengths to further the cause. If trying to create change of any sort, I would always start by trying to make sure everyone feels like they belong and have something to offer. 

Part of belonging for me is creating respect and I think that is done by teaching people about inclusive language and making sure that their environments are set up so that everyone can succeed. So I would prioritize these topics, if that makes sense. 

Alexis: Thank you, Melissa! 

Melissa, you wrote an article called “How to Overcome Unconscious Bias.” Would you please tell us why you chose to write on this topic? 

Melissa: Excellent question, Alexis. Well, in my experience the biggest barrier to inclusion is people’s attitudes and prejudgments about people with disabilities. …we all have unconscious ideas about people when we first meet them, but as I said in my article, these thoughts aren’t always correct. I am hoping that my article will encourage people to think twice about making pre-judgements before they know the whole story. 

Alexis: When I first met you, you talked about a framework. Can you outline the framework you referred to and explain why you find it useful? 

Melissa: Yes, of course. I love using that framework! It is called the Good Life Buckets Model and it was created by a person named Jonathan Fields. He has written a whole book on the 

topic and it is called “How To Live A Good Life”.  

In his model, Jonathan Fields says that we should think about our lives as having three buckets: a contribution bucket, a vitality bucket, and a connection bucket. He says that we should regularly consider how full our buckets in each of these areas are, and if they’re running a bit empty, consider ways to fill them up. 

He also makes the good point that if one bucket runs dry, it will affect the other buckets so to live a good life, we should try to contribute to society, stay healthy in mind and body, and have lots of connections with other people. Personally I like this model because it gives a quick and easy way to reflect on my life and make tweaks if I feel I am missing out in one area. 

Alexis: Right! It’s probably easier to teach people when you have to in certain workshops or zoom meetings that you do.  

Melissa: Ya, I love talking about that framework.  

Alexis: Awesome! 

Melissa, some people like to be referred to as a disabled person, and others like to be referred to as a person first. What are your thoughts on disability language and how it’s used to describe who you are? 

Melissa: I personally prefer Person-First language which puts the person before the disability. I know that some other people have other preferences though, so it is important to always ask what people’s preferences are before making assumptions. I personally like Person-First language best because I think that it acknowledges that the person should be the focus, rather than the disability. I think that it is about respect and dignity. Um, The same goes for using outdated language. I think that words like “handicapped”, or the “R-word” have bad connotations and are not respectful at all, in my opinion.  

Alexis: What other words would you use that are more respectful?  

Melissa: I would say for myself, “I am Melissa and I have Cerebral Pasly and epilepsy. I wouldn’t use outdated language because it’s quite hurtful and you never know who you are talking to because you never know what the person’s experience is. So that’s why I am always cautious about outdated language, if that makes sense?  

Oh and I also wanted to say that when labels are necessary to describe a person with a disability, I really try to be specific and use details.  And I kind of touched on this in my last example. But basically, I learned from Peter Brown, who is the president of the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC, that details are important. So another way to look speaking inclusively is, instead of saying something like “Johnny has a disability”, which can come with many preconceived ideas, it would be better to state how the disability affects the person by saying something like, “Johnny has mobility issues which limit his ability to climb the stairs”. When people use words like “disabled” or “disability” without giving more background, it can lead to all sorts of misconceptions about what the person actually experiences. 

Alexis: Right! I really dislike people who use language without knowing what the person is experiencing. 

Melissa: Yup. I echo that.  

Alexis:  This question is also related to your article. Is there a way to teach people to think about their biases differently and change their language?  

Melissa: As I say in my article, I think  that the first step is to be mindful of your own assumptions so that you don’t automatically pre-judge people based on things that might not be true. I think that if people make an effort to expose themselves to a diverse group of people that includes people with disabilities, they will see that people with disabilities have strengths and can contribute to society. I find quite often that people with disabilities have unique experiences and perceptions that can enrich an activity or an institution. 

I think that a final way to decrease biases is to become educated about unconscious bias and about inclusion. In the article you refer to that can be found on the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC’s website, I give a couple of resources that may help with this. I also have many more resources that I can share, so if anyone is interested in finding out more about this or the other topics we have talked about, please don’t hesitate to email me at 

Alexis: Melissa, I also have a quick question. Are there any adaptative activities that you really liked in PE when you were in school, like Frisbee or things like that? 

Melissa: I really liked doing Karate and I also liked doing rock climbing. Those are my top two favorite adaptive activities in high school.  

Alexis: Interesting.  

Alexis: This is my last question. What do you think makes a mighty person, Melissa? 

Melissa: What a fantastic question!  Um, several things come to mind for me. I think that a mighty person stands up for themselves and advocates for others and themselves when they see an inequity. A mighty person isn’t afraid to fail, and they have a growth mindset, seeing mistakes as learning opportunities. A mighty person tries new things and goes outside of their comfort zone to grow as a person. Most of all, I think that a mighty person goes for their dreams and doesn’t let challenges overtake them. 

Alexis: Thank you for that answer. With gratitude Melissa. Thank you for allowing me to interview you today. I really appreciate you coming on my show because you are such an inspiration to me as I grow and go to university. 

Throughout this podcast I have met some incredible people who are now part of my life and I look up to you are one of them. 

Thank you for the interview, Melissa. 

Published by Alexis Folk

Hello my name is Alexis Folk, I was born premature resulting in my Cerebral Palsy. I live in a small town in BC. I am currently going into grade 10 and I love swimming and volunteering for clubs. I have been horse riding since I was three years of age for fun.

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