March 8th marks International Women’s Day, a time to call for change and celebrate the achievements of women in our communities and across the world. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual: an equal world is an enabled world.

The theme is especially fitting for the many members of our community who advocate for equity and accessibility. We’re celebrating the contributions of three women who use their voices to speak out about important issues and call for change.

Deepi Leihl at a microphone in the radio studioPhoto by Duncan Cairns

Deepi Leihl

“I think women of all ages, colours, backgrounds and abilities should be extremely proud of the person they are. Women are strong, caring and can do almost anything our hearts want us to do. I think the term “equal” says it all; we all deserve to be treated fairly and equally. Because we are all equal!”

Deepi demonstrates the power of communication for change as a radio producer and advocate for accessibility. She is a Community Volunteer Member at UBC’s campus radio station, CiTR. As the CiTR’s Accessibility Collective Coordinator, she is also Co-Producer/Host of the Collective’s show All Access Pass. The Accessibility Collective works to produce content about equity, inclusion, and accessibility for and by people with diverse abilities.

Deepi lives with a disability called metatrophic dwarfism and relies on an electric chair to get around. She has spent a lifetime facing challenges accessing buildings. For years, Deepi has worked to highlight accessibility issues in Metro Vancouver. She produced the hour-long radio documentary, Accessibility, in collaboration with CiTR’s News Director Morgan Yee and community support workers, which brought widespread attention to these issues. In 2019, she won the Breaking Barriers award from the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA) for a live panel episode of All Access Pass on disability terminology and language. Deepi aspires to one day work for a major radio station like CBC Radio or 103.5 QMFM.

One of her proudest accomplishments is graduating from high school, “because that was the point when I realized I can do anything if I put my mind to it,” she says.

Deepi regularly shares uplifting quotes and stories on her Facebook Page, Deepi Leihl – Perspectives. She also encourages others to speak out for change. By sharing her experiences and reporting on disability issues, she hopes to break down barriers and create a more inclusive community.

Lara Gunkel

Larissa Gunkel

Larissa is passionate about public speaking and uses her mind, heart and soul to be creative and express herself. She has helped emcee our own Inclusion Art Show & Sale and speaks from the heart about what people of all abilities have to offer.

In 2019, the Community Living Society and UBC Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship presented Romance, Relationships & Rights, a theatre performance that confronted misconceptions about adults with intellectual disabilities, created in collaboration with self-advocates. As an actor & co-creator, Larissa helped develop scenes that drew on her own lived experience and key issues from all the self-advocates.

Club Feet and Marfan Syndrome make walking for extended periods painful, but Larissa hasn’t let it slow her down. Her future aspirations include fundraising, grant writing, and finding joint venture financial partners for her own Love Empire—a collection of businesses including an international restaurant to help end global hunger and wellness healing centre.

Miranda Orth

Miranda takes on new challenges and has many accomplishments under her belt. She is a Special Olympics athlete, public speaker, and intellectual disabilities activist. Miranda is also an actress at posAbilities’ Stage Door Theatre.

She has spoken out about the challenges of finding meaningful work as a person with intellectual challenges. As a Special Olympics BC athlete, she worked with elementary school students to teach them sports. The initiative, led by UBC student Nikol Grishin, aimed to showcase the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities and encourage greater understanding and acceptance. This was an issue Miranda had experienced first-hand in school—she felt that being placed in a separate class meant she was never fully accepted by her peers.

Last year, together with Svava Tergesen, she made her first short documentary, Rider. The film drew on her experience as a horse rider, and she found making it to be a fun challenge. Her passion for advocacy has also led her to work alongside local government to share her thoughts at candidate meetings during the provincial election.

One of her proudest accomplishments from the past year is achieving a personal best time in the 5km race at the Special Olympics track meet at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium in June 2019. Her time was 25 minutes, beating her previous personal best by a full 5 minutes. Whether it’s as an athlete, actress, or advocate, she is always pushing herself to reach new goals.

Do you have a story to share about advocacy, leadership, and contributions to inclusion? We would love to feature more voices from the community. Contact us to discuss featuring your story on the blog!