Humanities 101 student Mary Salvani has a passion for making the world a better place for people with disabilities.

The accomplished self-advocate has had a lot of practice. Born with cerebral palsy, Mary has learned to look out for herself and others like her who struggle with daily activities. “I’ve been an advocate since I was born, whether I wanted to or not,” she says.

A member of Calgary’s Disability Action Hall – a network of self-advocates which she calls a “fun, dysfunctional family” – Mary noticed that services for disabled transit users could be improved at St. Mary’s University.

Soon after arriving on campus in January 2015, she began working with Humanities 101 Coordinator Christine Chambers and Calgary Transit staff to enhance signage and directions for Access Calgary drivers on campus.

In short order, new Access Calgary loading-zone signs were installed on campus, but she continues to advocate for improvements for herself and other disabled students who depend on public transit to get to class.

Many service organizations and government agencies – including MLAs and Minister’s offices – have received polite yet pointed emails from Mary, as she pushes for better services, support, housing and relationship equality for people with physical and developmental disabilities.

She has appeared in media interviews, performances and videos to bring these issues to the forefront. She is particularly proud of participating in efforts to raise AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) by $400, gathering 400 signatures on a petition which turned into a thank-you card when the government announced the increase in 2012. Now, she is working with the Disability Action Hall to lobby the government to index AISH to the annual cost of living increase in Alberta.

Mary discovered Humanities 101 when she saw a poster advertising the program at the Calgary Association of Self Help. She says Humanities 101 has restored her faith in post-secondary education and taught her to apply critical thinking to her advocacy work.

“I really like the learning environment here,” she says. “The professors are really involved with the students, and I know I could go to them if I had a problem in class or if I needed help getting here.”

Mary Salvani portrait Humanities 101

Mary Salvani, a student in St. Mary’s University’s Humanities 101 program, helped improve signage and support for disabled students on campus.