By Marilyn Dolmage
Melanie Panitch wrote a book, which profiled Canadian mothers she called "Accidental Activists" - saying they became advocates after their sons were born or diagnosed with disabilities. I disagree with that representation; I think it's not "accidental" at all that strong women naturally expect - and work for - better lives for their children.
Yuksel's activism started long before Bilgi was born, and was very intentional.
Growing up in Turkey, where her father had contributed to political and social reforms, Yuksel thrived in the resulting secular society. As a teenager, she spent a year on exchange in Palm Springs, California. Imagine the supreme culture shock, to be so far from all she knew, in those days (long before social media!) Yuksel also travelled Europe alone, at a time when that was rare even for North American single women. After earning her PhD - back in the U.S. at Iowa State - she taught political science in Istanbul, where her words and actions sometimes put her at personal risk.
Yuksel and her husband Tony came to Canada because they wanted a better life for their son Bilgi. Yuksel expected that the repatriated Canadian Constitution would guarantee that. She had high expectations for school staff in Orillia too, and was frustrated when they did not have high expectations for Bilgi. Yuksel joined Integration Action (Group) in its early days, and we organized a productive Simcoe County Chapter. Bilgi stayed well away from the School for the Blind, and grew up asserting his own rights. I remember Bilgi dismissing those who created obstacles for him, by saying: "you are wasting my precious time!"
Yuksel's activism was precious too, and her life was far too short.
Marilyn Dolmage M.S.W. assists schools and families to work together to improve education for students of all abilities. She communicates with a broad
network across Ontario concerning the law, provincial policies, educational practices, research and advocacy strategies. She led a series of projects for The Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education since 1995. She is an Associate, with Inclusive Education Canada. Marilyn works alongside people with disabilities and their families to end segregation, promote effective inclusion and create new support relationships. She led the class action and settlement, concerning abuses at Huronia Regional Centre, an Ontario government institution. The insights of Marilyn’s three children have given her hope for the future. Her family struggled to ensure they attended school together, and to assist her older son to have the education, medical treatment, employment and community life he wanted. Matthew’s sudden death in 2004 – at the age of 29 – has heightened her resolve to improve policy and strengthen families, schools and communities.