Episode 3

March 28, 2023


Diversity, Inclusivity and Accessibility with Sasha Boersma

Hosted by

Pat Quigley
Diversity, Inclusivity and Accessibility with Sasha Boersma
Storyteller In-Depth
Diversity, Inclusivity and Accessibility with Sasha Boersma

Mar 28 2023 | 00:45:11


Show Notes

In this episode, we are speaking with one of our instructors, Sasha Boersma, on the critical topic of diversity, inclusivity and accessibility in both the gaming industry and the classroom.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hello and welcome to Storyteller in Depth, a podcast where we go behind the scenes to learn more about the Story Arts Center's, people, places, and things. I'm your host, pat Quigley, and in today's episode we're speaking with one of our very own instructors, Sasha Bosma, on the critical topic of diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility in both the gaming industry and in the classroom. Stick around. Speaker 0 00:00:42 The gaming industry is quite expansive as it encompasses various types of genres, platforms, and styles. Yet what is often not considered enough is who's behind the scenes making the games. The gaming industry has largely been known for its lack of diversity and inclusivity, which can be attributed to many factors such as hiring practices, a lack of support and resources and more. And while there has been some progress, there's still so much more that needs to be done. To add to this conversation is Sasha bma, co-founder and producer at Sticky Brain Studios, a family friendly video game company with games for all ages. They've worked with broadcasters not for profits, and television producers created educational products for government agencies and have begun creating their own original content. Sasha also currently teaches in our film and television business and interactive media management programs, and has implemented several inclusive practices in her classroom to make the space welcoming and understanding. She's also involved with the New Disability Screen Office, which will dive into more shortly. Thank you so much, Sasha, for being on the podcast today. Speaker 2 00:01:47 Great. Thank you for having me, Patrick. I'm looking forward to our chat. Speaker 0 00:01:50 Yeah, it's gonna be great. So, Sasha, before we kind of get started into talking about all of these amazing questions that we have, talk a little bit about yourself. Who are you and, and tell us a little bit about your background. Speaker 2 00:02:03 Yeah, so, uh, so the context of Centennial. I've been teaching as contract faculty for the past 13 years, and I've taught in, uh, a number of the postgraduate programs, so interactive media management, uh, children's media, and the film and TV business program as well, which is, they, they all seem so weird, but, um, they definitely show the, the story of <laugh>. My career and most of the courses for all three were very much business studies and, uh, my life outside of Centennial College. I'm a video game producer. I co-own my own video game company called Sticky Brain Studios, and we make family friendly video games. We do both games for service as in, uh, we do games for Canadian broadcasters, for Canadian television producers. We've made some award-winning, uh, preschool games for the TV brand, cutie pugs. Uh, we also have done work for some, not-for-profits, for the government of, of Canada, all of which are our education and, and supporting, you know, families and, and learning. Speaker 2 00:03:06 And in the last five or six years we've started to also develop our own video games, uh, including two that are in the app store right now. One is a Dressup game where you dress up, um, co Japanese co dolls in Kimonos, and the game is aptly called kimono. And uh, another is a mobile puzzle game called Loki Castle, where you have to, uh, clear these puzzle boards by a, um, suddenly I'm drive, forget the word, by evolving into other forms of little aba. And, uh, and we're currently working on our third game, which would be for Steam called Rooster, which is a narrative-based puzzle game inspired by the Chinese Zodiac characters. So yeah, that's my <laugh>. It's, there's the short of, uh, of my background and who I am. Speaker 0 00:03:53 That's amazing. And it's so cool. Like what made you want to get into to the industry of video games? Speaker 2 00:03:59 You know, I have been an early adapter, so I'm Gen X, but my parents worked in, uh, in technology. So I've always grown up around computers. I'm an, I'm an original digital native and always had computer games around, and I always thought they were really fun, except in the nineties, uh, there was no video game school. And so in the nineties I went to my second interest, which was film and television production. And, uh, so got my degree in that, but then realized I didn't enjoy being on set <laugh>, so I went into working in administration and funding for film and television, worked for a funder that also funded video games and was really drawn to that. And that's really what helped I was able to take my film and TV background and apply it to this fast growing, um, sector of interactive media and, and video games. Speaker 0 00:04:51 That's amazing. And something that you've kind of been working on is working into the, the world of inclusivity in video games. Yes. So can you touch a little bit on that and, and why you're so passionate about this? Speaker 2 00:05:06 Yeah, it's, um, I mean I grew up playing video games, like I, I love video games. Um, but it was really interesting as the consoles matured and started getting really great in the, in the tech and the graphics video games went from this really great space for kind of nerdy people to play it to, like playing games into this quite toxic, masculine violent kind of approach. It was like, as the graphics got better, we seem to be drawn to this more violent style video game. No shame to Halo Call of Duty, they're fantastic games. Um, but that became like the bulk of a lot of what video games were. And that behavior kind of went on into the studios because it became over, we're making these kinds of games, this is the kind of behavior we're in. And it went from video games, went from being this space with a bunch of nerdy people who like video games into this very kind of toxic masculinity sort of, sort of space. Speaker 2 00:06:08 Um, and I won't use, I won't get into the stories that have been talked about many times over, but it, it's, you know, the violence against women, the violence, aga violence and misogyny to against women as well as, you know, the homophobia, transphobia, um, racism that, that kind of goes on in the industry. And a lot of it's not, um, a lot of, it's not like blatant, but a lot of it's that microaggression, oh, of course you like pink. Oh, you know, of course you like this. Or, you know, all that microaggression kind of stuff that makes you think, ugh, why am I doing this? And it really pushes a lot of people away. Um, but here I am, I just, I love video games and, and I was really lucky, um, privileged, I guess is the better word, to have been able to be surrounded around really great people, really great supportive environments. Speaker 2 00:07:00 The fact that I worked in family friendly video games changed the type of people that you're around. Um, and I've worked with some fantastic people, but then as I grew my career and worked as a freelancer, I found like how subtle the racism was. When I put forward people I knew and say, oh my gosh, if looking for more women in video games, here's a fantastic developer. She worked for me, I would hire her in an instant. If I had a studio, I now have one. I didn't have one then, but the fact that people would say, oh, well I'd hire her, but like her English, she has an accent. I was like, so, um, and, and little things like that would, would just keep, keep being a concern for me. And uh, and then also because I worked very closely with the film and TV industry as well, I, I get seeing people who, it was all able bodied, like people who had disabilities just felt there was no room for them or when they would try, they were told that they were doing things wrong. Speaker 2 00:07:53 And, um, as I got older, I was diagnosed with autism, adhd, and anxiety disorder, which is very common for women my age to not be diagnosed younger, but to be diagnosed older and realizing that I need different systems to work. And in video games there's been a lot of, um, you're trying to be the hero cuz you're making video games. And so the idea that you're gonna do everything you can for your studio and you're gonna crunch and if you're not putting 60 hours or you're really helping the team, you gotta give your 110% and it becomes like, well you can't do that if you have a family. You can't do that if you have other people you have to look after. You can't do that if you are someone with a disability and have to look after yourself. And so when my business partner Ted Broon and I decided to start Sticky Brain, we were both like, let's make the kind of company that we wanna work at. Speaker 2 00:08:43 Let's challenge some of the ways that that we think of video game studios and, and try something different. And um, yeah. And, and I think that's kind of what start, I don't think we necessarily started intending to focus on inclusivity. We focused it on, wow, we're tired of the stuff that we've been put up with in our careers. We wanna do things the way that we think is fair and equitable and just work with really fun people and make video games. And, uh, and that's ultimately it started me on my <laugh> on my path I guess. And it went from that to, you know, you start reading about social injustice and, and how this pl and how social justice and business management intersect and how can you, we live in a capitalistic society. We have to make money. And the question I ask my students all the time, which is, do you wanna be a billionaire? Speaker 2 00:09:33 We're half of your employees live off of food stamps and social services because they can't afford their groceries? Or would you rather be a millionaire and know every single person on your team is looked after healthy, happy, doing their best work? And I'm not kidding, every, no matter the political affiliation of my students, every single one goes, I like the latter. And that's, so that's the world that I'm going for. It's capitalism, that that's what it is right now. I'm not gonna change that. So how do I work on it to make it more equitable? And that's really been my approach of teaching and also with sticky Brain. So hope that helps Speaker 0 00:10:09 <laugh>. Yeah, no, that's an amazing answer. I mean, we got so much, I I'm just trying to, you know, rack my brain around everything that you've just said. Cause Speaker 2 00:10:18 Welcome to the autism, it's just, you asked me a question and then I'm just like, I'm gonna just throw it all at you. Speaker 0 00:10:24 It's perfect. It's why sometimes Speaker 2 00:10:25 People, we exhaust people Speaker 0 00:10:27 <laugh>. Yeah, no, not at all. <laugh>. So talking about sticky brain, what kind of accommodations have you incorporated into your company and in your experience, how has doing so exemplified the need for them in other companies, uh, across this industry specifically? Speaker 2 00:10:45 Yeah, so the big one in the industry that number one thing to deal with is that the, the culture of crunch. The idea that, um, you as the employee must sacrifice everything so that the company can make a ton of money. Um, there are, I don't wanna get into it here, but there are so many stories and anecdotes of local companies past and present who have these kinds of bad behaviors and we don't wanna participate in that. Um, what helps is my business partner and I, we founded our company as we were getting older. Like I, I was in my um, mid thirties, he was in his mid forties. We're like, we're too old already to deal with that crunch. So if we can't work 40 hour weeks, how do we expect everyone else to? And uh, and so as we've been onboarding, we decided to define our work week, um, federally in the government of Canada, they identify 30 hours a week as a minimum designation for full-time work for immigration purposes. Speaker 2 00:11:42 I like That's perfect. So what we ask with our team is, um, I'm also sorry to take a step back. I'm also a big fan of the four day work week, which is also hard to do when you're in the creative space cuz you're creative when you're creative. And so we want it to be flexible. It's like, hey, well if you only wanna do a four day work week, that's great. Um, but also like if you're a creative type, you wanna work at different hours when you do your best work, we wanna support that. Um, and at the same time, we don't want you to overwork because we know at a certain point it becomes make work and not quality work. And I wanna pay for quality, not quantity. So with all of this and all the reading I've done, I was like, let's do a 35 hour work week. Speaker 2 00:12:19 Um, because that can be compressed into four days. If someone wanted, interestingly, everyone on our team likes to work five days, but they kind of, some, they work different numbers of hours each day to get there. And then we have a minimum of 30. So those of us with disabilities on the team, if we're having a bad week with our disabilities or health matters or the parents on our team have parental crises, it's like at least if you've put in 30 hours, um, you're fine for the week. And that just eases up some of the, some of that eating of sick time and vacation time that happens because now it's like, Hey, we get it. If you put at least 30 quality hours, you're good. We prefer you put in 35, but we'll deal with 30. Um, so things like that help from an inclusivity standpoint. Speaker 2 00:13:05 Everyone has three weeks vacation, like done, done, done. Because we, we, we use our brains and if I'd rather, again, I don't want them sitting around on payroll not being functional if they need time off to to, to recover their brains. Um, we have two weeks of sick days slash personal days. This allows people with disabilities who, you know, struggle to be like, Hey, I'm not hitting my 30 hours. I'm gonna grab three hours out of my sick leaf pile to get my hours to balance out so that they can, they know they can be ill and recover knowing that, you know, they're not letting people down. Um, also it's great for parents cuz if their parents, uh, my team has family out of town so they can get around the provinces they need. Um, we're remote, we're hybrid so people can work from home, they can come in the office and all of these things I think are what contributes to like an inclusive space. Speaker 2 00:14:00 So we're not policing their hours. Um, they have the time that they need to get work done. If they do their best work at between four in the afternoon to eight o'clock at night, that's fine. If they do their best work at seven in the morning till 11 in the morning, that's fine. Um, and when we focus on just getting the work done rather than FaceTime, rather than putting in hours cuz someone said, um, I don't know. I find you get, you get the best work and, and I'm really happy with with what we, with what we see. And so we're just challenging all the notions. Let's, it's let's challenge the how sick days cost companies let's challenge, you know, that we need everyone to work a maximum number of hours to be able to be do productive great work. Um, a lot of this is relatively newly implemented. We had freelance workers for a number of years now we have like an actual em employee and staff, but I'm already in the last four months of, of doing this already really, really happy, um, with what I'm seeing, seeing in in people's, um, work with people's personalities, their own professional growth. Um, yeah, so that's, uh, it's a lot of the challenging that we're doing. And <laugh>, I'll leave it there cuz I can wrap keep round. I'll just stop there and let you go up another question. Speaker 0 00:15:05 <laugh>, it's all good. It's all good. I mean you're really, it's cool to see kind of, I don't wanna use the word breaking down like a barrier of like what the standard is, right? And, and giving people that space to, to do what works best for them, right? As you said, if you work better between the hours of four and 9:00 PM then work at your best time, right? And give people the time off that they need to be able to work through whatever they need to work through and and everything. I think that's, it's hugely amazing that you guys are doing that with the company cuz I know there's times that I wish I could do that, but you know, you're kind of stuck to a schedule. Yeah. So are there any specific types of accommodations that you think are particularly important for those with disabilities that want to enter the gaming industry? Speaker 2 00:15:54 I, I think it is so weird, but I think Covid was one of the best things for this. The embracing of hybrid of remote work. Toronto's video game industry was always kind of hybrid. Um, it was always kind of, um, you know, um, sorry, I'm trying to find the words. I think because we're all very small in Toronto, very indie, so not everyone had a studio or a touchpoint. But I think in terms of like the wider games industry, the idea is like we're all sitting at our computers and we all need focus time to work. So do we have to pack up and go into an office just to sit at a computer by ourselves and, and code or do art? I don't, I don't know. And so for us, I think the first one is that hybrid, it's the, you know, letting people work when they do their best work and do they have to physically go into an office. Speaker 2 00:16:44 And it's hard because in business school you're taught to, you know, you want to see your employees then, you know, they're working. But I've been an employee where I've got all my work done in five hours and was not allowed to leave because if I left I wouldn't get my last three hours of pay for the day. So I hung around the office and played solitaire and probably disrupted everyone else's work just so I can get my other to get my full day's pay versus the like, great, if you're done, go leave everyone else alone, <laugh>, go find something else to do. Go be productive, go take a YouTube course. I don't know. Um, and so I think that that changing from, you know, needing to all be in an office together into, hey, how can we work remotely? Because people with disabilities too, some people with physical disabilities, the whole act of getting into an office to sit in an uncomfortable chair, an uncomfortable thing versus like at home, they might have their own work stations that they've created for themselves that they, that they're happy to work from home and, and take less energy or those with mental health conditions. Speaker 2 00:17:48 Um, like thinking if they have like bipolar or ke fatigue syndrome or you know, fibro, it's like you wake up and you're like, I only have so much energy today. And do you really want them to waste that energy getting to your office on public transit? Or would you rather them just roll outta bed and take that little amount of energy and get a bunch of assets done, or get a bunch of code done or get a bunch of social media stuff done? Right. And that's my approach. It's like I'd rather, if this is the window I get <laugh> that there's little tiny windows all I get that's, I want them to work on my stuff and not focus on the everything else. And I think Covid changed a lot of this because we went from this very heavy approach in Canada, in the United States. Speaker 2 00:18:28 Like we must be in person to know they're working to, wow we can save a ton of money on real estate if we don't manage a full office and the employees are happier. Um, so I think that's, that's number one. That's, that's the one least expensive element to, to start with, which is the, that hybrid flex sort of, uh, approach. Um, and giving people the space to work during their best hours. Because again, with the different health conditions, not everyone can get up and function at nine in the morning. Sometimes it takes 'em a while to get going, so. Speaker 0 00:18:59 Right. Speaker 2 00:19:00 Yeah, I think those are some, those are some good intro thoughts I think Speaker 0 00:19:02 <laugh>. Yeah. Oh, for sure. Yeah. <laugh>, I mean, I remember for, there was a time when like just before all Covid stuff happened, started I guess in, in Canada where I was like, oh, it'd be really nice to work from home for a couple days. And then that turned into two years and you're like, oh, okay. And you kind of got used to this new way of, of working and, and working with people and you know, from a team that was as small as like three or four people then became a team of a much larger group of people. And now you got to share these ideas with different people and it, you know, it changed the way that I worked and it changed the way a lot of other people worked and you know, you could see people were happier in a lot of ways. Right. Speaker 2 00:19:42 It's a lot of balance too. Like, I, like you mentioned about people, cuz I think too, a number of folks kind of feel, oh, if you're remote, you're, you're away from people. And again, you could have, that could be a negative for some people. Like, particularly those that struggle with depression or, or interhuman or like interpersonal relationships that they might feel a gap without having the space. And so that's definitely part of it. It's nurturing a strong virtual space where everyone feels like they can contribute. It means as a manager, making sure you have touch pain touchpoints with everybody during the course of the week weekend at least once, if not twice. And not just like chat, but like, Hey, let's have a video call. Let's talk this through for a few minutes. Um, just especially as a manager so people feel seen, people feel like you're, you're aware of them. Speaker 2 00:20:25 And then even my team sometimes just goes, wow, I miss everyone. Can we have a social? And you know, because I'm not spending as a manager, I'm not spending as much on rent and everything else. And it's like, yeah, I'll ordered a bunch of takeout, let's all just come on in and and hang out. And sure that means that's an afternoon of work where they're not doing work, but they're being social, but it just lifts their spirits. It's, uh, you, you know, a fun way they do talk work, but it's also as social and, and that helps in that way too. So I think it's that finding that right in between of making sure that people still have that human contact to feel like they belong, to feel connected, to feel like they matter as well as, you know, the space to do what you need so you can get your work done. Speaker 2 00:21:08 And it's a fine balance and I think every team's a little bit different, but I'm all about like explore it. Um, the big thing that we haven't talked about, but it's a big element of it is the largest work, the largest depart, the largest section of the workforce who isn't currently working or who's unemployed are people with disabilities. And it's often because of lack of inclusion, lack of accessibility. And in my mind, video games are so easy to accommodate because people can work from home, people can work in the office, you can have a standing desk or a sitting desk, which a lot of people do anyways cuz they just get bored of sitting. So a lot of video games is naturally kind of adaptive in the production side of things. So it makes sense to think more broadly because we do have a labor shortage. And so if we can think more broadly about how can we engage people, you end up with a wider talent pool, um, as well, particularly as the colleges universities become more inclusive with their structures that you do have more people trained and educated with disabilities than ever before. So now how do we make these environments that we can get them working, um, and they can contribute and you know, we get access to more people this way. Speaker 0 00:22:21 Yeah, exactly. And I mean, you kind of touched on the next question I was gonna ask you as well as about just expanding on how there's been a lack of inclusivity in the gaming industry over years and, you know, is this often due to lack of access to resources, tools and support for people with disabilities? Speaker 2 00:22:37 Very much. I mean, if you can't physically play a video game, you're not attracted to working in video games. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So there's been a lot of really interesting work in the last 10 years and long time. But I'd see in the last 10 years in a particular of people, um, of the big video game companies of Sony and Microsoft really putting in a lot of research into accessibility devices. Just, um, just a few weeks ago Sony announced this really cool new controller. I have no idea how it works, but then again, I don't have a physical disability, but everyone I follow with physical disabilities on Twitter is just like mind blown excited and thrilled for this because now they don't have now what they can play. It's an official controller by Sony that they can play that doesn't require the hands to grip in a certain way. Speaker 2 00:23:26 Um, and I think that's fantastic. Another one, um, really great thinker that's Toronto based for anyone that wants to look him up, his name is Steve Sailor and he goes by the hand with the bl the blind gamer. And, um, he's been doing accessibility critiques of video games. And again, the last number of years, more and more, more video game companies are starting to think about, Hey, how can I make the fonts accessible? I should have voiceovers as well as the text. I should be able to allow people to remap the controllers. And all of these seemingly small things suddenly means a lot more people can play your game, which means buy your game, which means fall in love with games <laugh>, which means hopefully wanting to work in video games. And that's the theme across everything, inclusivity. When you hear people in the video game industry say, oh well we can't do equity because I can't find people who aren't white, um, because the schools don't have anyone. Speaker 2 00:24:21 And it's like, well it's a, it's a never ending cycle. If we don't make the change in the content we make, then the general audiences aren't gonna see themselves and aren't going to enter video game schools to learn it for us to hire them. Um, and if we're gonna be upset about people's accents, that's definitely right <laugh>, you know, like it becomes this whole self-fulfilling prophecy. Um, but I do think we're on the verge of some really cool, interesting things if, if we actually want to, um, and I'm a big fan of, of supporting challenging those perceived norms. Um, that's, that's, that's my goal for the next two years, releasing a really cool game that challenges all of this <laugh>. Speaker 0 00:25:00 That's amazing. I mean, I know there's a lot of the big AAA games, right, that are out there kind of in the past, you know, four years, five years or so, which have really started upping the accessibility options that they have to, to tune things up. Like I know I think the last of us had it in God of war and just to name a couple of the big, big ones, right? Yeah. Um, that have just kind of broken a lot of barriers in terms of accessibility so that if somebody does have, you know, a site impairment or is blind, they could, they're able to play the game or anything like that. Like that's incredible to just to be able to, to do that. Right. And do you see that the gaming industry is becoming more inclusive? And what do you think still needs to be done in order to make more steps towards that inclusivity? Speaker 2 00:25:51 I, I think that we're, I, I do think that there's an effort, there's no doubt about it. The, the issue can be, especially in Toronto, we don't have a big AAA industry. We have a strong indie industry and it can cost to, to do some of this. Um, however there is work with, uh, you know, there's a new disability screen office that's starting up. So I think there'll be some more, you know, in the next couple of years, some more work around this. So it's e it's great when we can point to Microsoft and Sony and Nintendo and say, look at the amazing stuff that they're doing. Um, but they also, they're huge companies. They're publicly traded, they have a ton of money, they have a whole research arm, um, that it requires extra thinking as, um, an independent studio to, to think all this through and work it out and, you know, maybe hire an accessibility expert or an accessibility consultant and thinking about it early on. Speaker 2 00:26:44 Cuz trying to do accessibility in a video game at the end can be like quite problematic. So it can be hard as an indie studio because in, in Toronto we're always chasing funding, we're chasing deals. Um, it's a lot of extra work. I do think it's possible. I think people want to, um, I think a big part of it is turning it from, um, I have a phrase, I have a colleague that has a great phrase for it and I suddenly can't remember. But the idea is like instead of it being a surprise expense, it becomes a planned expense. How do we, how do we plan for it in advance so that we're not surprised about it later? And I do think that we're actually in, in Canada, um, with, because we rely so much on government funding, the government agencies get it and they're starting to do things like bonus points or like extra points in your assessment if you are thinking about accessibility, if you are thinking about broader diversity, equity and inclusion with culture representation, gender queer, et cetera, uh, as well as disability representation and or accessibility. Speaker 2 00:27:45 It's, it's a ongoing topic that's happening because in Canada, we're so reliant on these government funds that I do think that the change is gonna happen faster than we realize, but I think it's requiring all of us to rethink what we're doing. And that's, that's the hard part. And when you have a number of small companies that are so focused on just keeping their business going, it can be really, really hard to convince them to say, Hey, actually taking a step back and spending some time on equity, diversity, inclusion, decolonization accessibility is actually a good thing. It's really hard to convince them of that when they're worried about how they're gonna pay make payroll in two months. Um, so it's gonna, it's, well, I think in Toronto there's good intention. I think that there's good movement. I think there's a lot of wonderful people talking about it. Speaker 2 00:28:33 I do think because we have a very small indie space, it's gonna be a bit harder to get the conversations going where they should be. They will get there. They don't take, i, i I wanna change the world tomorrow. So <laugh> it can be frustrating when you wanna just change everything, but I do know that it means well, um, but it, it, it can make it difficult for young people to kind of break in because you're like, how do people see me? I don't see the role models. Um, so it can be a little bit of extra work for young people to, to get people to take notice. But I, I do see the tides changing and I'm kind of excited and I'm hoping if we have this conversation in five years, it'll be a whole different conversation of all the amazing things happening around the industry. Speaker 0 00:29:15 Oh, for sure I can, technology and everything changes so quickly within such a short amount of time that in five years who knows where, where all of this will be. Right. And exactly. It's, it's incredible. So something that I know you have become involved with is the Disability Screen Office. Um, can you talk a little bit about your involvement and how your role tackles the industry bias that is evident in the gaming industry? Speaker 2 00:29:39 Yeah, so Disability Screen Office, it's a brand new organization. It was created in 2022. It's just finding its footing now. Um, it was created to deal with, it's got a huge broad mandate, and I will simplify it as this. Its goal is to make the screen-based industries more accessible for both people in the industry and for audiences as well as improved disability representation, um, in experiences and in stories. And its main focus is film and television, however, it's already coming up about video games. Um, within consultations with, with, um, federal and provincial agencies. I became really interested in Disability Screen Office because I have a number of students and mentees that are people with disabilities, um, who have struggled to find place in the industry, who have felt othered, who felt that they can't make it, can't do it. And what, and I knew about the disability screen office, but really did it was they ran a, a special training program for screenwriters with disabilities and the way it was done. Speaker 2 00:30:38 And I just felt, I just felt my heart sore. I was like, yeah, that's, that's the start of the change. And then I just found myself going, I, I have board experience. I should just make sure that they know I'm interested in joining the board. Like I, I, this is a, a passion for me. And, uh, so yeah, so thankfully all the, um, organizers of the selection committee, they, they knew me. They, they, they actually, my name was already on the list. So by the time I reached out to the interim executive director, Andrew Morris, he was like, oh yeah, I already knew about you actually. And we had was the weirdest conversation where I thought he was just trying to learn about me. And he'd get back to me and at the end of the call he was like, so you wanna be on the board? Speaker 2 00:31:17 I was like, this was so bizarre. Um, it's a wonderful group of people who come from public service, private sector, industry and tech. Um, there's more to come, more to happen. We're just starting to get going. We've started with programs and partnerships to help people with disabilities get training and get access to industry. Um, we're, we'll be doing more research and more training and workshops, uh, coming up. But the main thing for me is I'm, I am tired of of having these students and young people come to me and say, I have insert disability. I'm really afraid I'll be found out and I can't get a job. Um, I'm tired of sitting in consultations where aspiring directors say I'm not allowed to be on set because they say I'm an insurance risk. Um, you know, it's just, it just seems so silly, uh, with all of it. Speaker 2 00:32:07 And so I'm very excited about the opportunities and again, the focus is gonna probably start filming TV just because there's a button, much more motivation behind it. But already, um, some of the agencies have been asking on the video game front about like, Hey, what does this mean for Canada's interactive media sector? What do we do? And how does this come about? So, um, yeah, it's, it's again, a lot of work in the next couple of years because trying to, trying to support, you know, film and television and their cousin, the web series and video games, it's, uh, it's a lot. But I'm excited, I'm excited to start changing this conversation, um, in Canada's screen-based industries. Speaker 0 00:32:45 Yeah. Wow. It's, it's so cool. And I know I've gotta look up so much more about the disability screen office and everything that goes on with it cuz just it knowledge is power, right? And, and being able to, to find it more about those kind of stuff is, is so important in, in all different media aspects, right? Yeah. Um, so moving kind of away a little bit from the one side of what you do on an everyday basis and into the other side, which is, you know, being a teacher at Centennial College, um, what steps have you incorporated to make your classroom more inclusive and accessible? And what observations have you found as a result of that? Speaker 2 00:33:25 Yeah, so I, because I come from industry, my classroom is very much industry like, it's like, I hate essays. Essays don't do anything. So I <laugh> I focus like, as we do at the college, which is let's make it practical work, let's make it hands on, let's make it applied. Um, things that I do, because I work closely with the government funding space for film and tv where things like expectations are clearly laid out how you're assessed or clearly laid out. Um, and they do all of this to try to be equitable in some form, in some form of transparency. And really when you're doing a funding application to many of these agencies, you're trying to answer as much of what they're asking for in the hopes that you score 80 or above so that you get seriously looked at and you're given a million dollars. Speaker 2 00:34:10 That <laugh> that's the dream. So I run the same with my classes. I remove a lot of this subjectivity, um, because we're at postal graduate level, right? So for at a graduate level, subjectivity is, is something else. I need to teach them the skills. And so rather than subjectivity, I focus on here's what you're learning, these are the things you're learning, here's how you're going to demonstrate it, and then here's how you're being graded on it. And also as a part-time faculty, it makes grading so much easier because when you're grading subjectivity, you're like, I don't know, does this sound right? And instead, you start going on, is this something that you can hand in to an investor or to a funder or to a partner? Or is this a pitch you can give a client? Yes, no, yes, no, maybe almost no <laugh>, you know, so, so your rubric becomes like, yes, you answered that. Speaker 2 00:35:01 Fantastic. Yes, you, you pitched that. You know, so it becomes faster to grade when you have a clearly defined, um, rubric to it. Most importantly though, I think what I'm really happy with is in a lot of the programs I teach in, there's a program policy about a mandated late policy, sorry, uh, where the idea is it's like, hey, you're adults, you're gonna make decisions. This is due Monday at four, but we get it. You're an adult who needs money. Toronto's expensive. Maybe you decided to take that extra shift on the weekend at work. That's fine. You can make the decision to submit it a week later, like you have up to a week to submit it with a a with a late penalty. Um, and on one hand that goes against a lot of traditional, but when we found that students were like, I'm really stressed, I'm missing home. Speaker 2 00:35:45 I had to take this extra shift because rent's really expensive. I had to change cuz. And it became a, you know what you do, you <laugh> just, it's due this date, here's the extension. And so that supports so many students cuz now they're not asking, they're not ashamed to ask for an extension. Um, they just get it. And they, they're adults who can make their own decisions. Um, the other part to this is making sure that they have a long time lead time to work on it. So when my unit opens, this is the assignment that goes with this unit, here's what you're gonna do in the assignment. You're gonna learn these bits over the course of the week. Your homework is basically to work on these chunks of the assignment. So when it's due in four weeks, you have a rough outline and you're not scrambling to do it last minute. Speaker 2 00:36:31 That's a natural accessibility built in rather than here's your thing and here's your homework and this is due in five weeks. It's like, no, it's all built in work on this piece of the assignment. Now whether they do it or not, that's, you know, at least I built accessibility in. Um, this also, by doing it this way, I find that it also helps students with a lot of the, uh, neurological disorders like a D H D, um, uh, autism, any sort of executive functioning issue where they struggle with time management and they might have a deal with, with the Center for Accessible Learning and Counseling Services or calcs, but at least this way, if they're working on it in chunks, they're able to identify so much faster. Hey, not processing, I need about three extra days on this, but I'm working on it. Right? So being able to break these down into chunks, help those who struggle with organizing time, executive dis executive dysfunction, um, to be able to get to that same goal without needing too much extra, um, you know, work on it. Speaker 2 00:37:35 And then also I try to give class time and consultations were available so it's like, here's an open class time again, they may or may not use it, but, but again, those who require accommodation accessibility, they're always the ones to use it because they totally get, you know, oh my gosh, this is great. I've, I will still come to class, I will still sit in the room, you're here for company. If I have questions, I'm going to work on this for three hours. Um, yeah. So those were just a, just a handful. <laugh> the yeah. Of some of the, uh, the things I've tried to do in the classroom to, to help support Speaker 0 00:38:07 Students. And that's incredible. I mean, I, I wish that I knew about some of the, the, you know, some instructors of mine took these resources back when I was going to school at Centennial and you know, being able to know about the resources that, that people had or people could use in order to, you know, have that late penalty or do these kind of things. Cuz it wasn't at, maybe I wasn't looking for it or maybe it just wasn't it Speaker 2 00:38:32 Changed by programs? It's different programs. Yeah. Right. So postgrad programs, they run a bit differently and these were something that we found was, were easier than trying to negotiate. Cuz like I said, adults have lives. My kid was sick. Um, you know, like I said, I, I needed, it rents expensive and I could get this extra shift and get double time. You know, they shouldn't have to apologize, but they have the space to just, no, it's like, yeah, you're an adult, you make your choice, you can still hand it in. So you still get a great grade, you're not gonna get an A or plus because that requires time management, but you are an adult that made choices that you needed and you still can get a solid B or B plus without going through the drama of negotiating. And that's across a couple of my programs at at our campus. Speaker 0 00:39:15 That's incredible. Um, so just kind of to, to wrap things up mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, the last question I have for you are, what are some steps that you think Centennial takes for inclusivity and accommodations? Speaker 2 00:39:30 Um, I think the end, I think, I think as an institution it's still working on it. I think that there's the facility side, I and I, I'm not on facilities. I, and I don't do admissions anymore <laugh>, but I think in program delivery there's a, a big discussion that I think the institution's having, which is especially after Covid, you know, do all of our programs have to be on campus? So how do we integrate hybrid learning? So if we, if we can integrate hybrid in the classroom, then a student who might wake up not have many, not have the energy, have you have the very tiny amount of energy and they'll lose it if they go to school. But they can at least roll out a bed, turn on their computer and log in. Of course the flip side is as someone with a disability, I, this is the one thing I physically can't do at this time is hybrid teach. Speaker 2 00:40:21 Cuz I'm like, my brain goes in too many places. Um, so there's like, so there's accessibility for students but also for faculty. I know a hybrid learning experience is great accessibility for the students, but as a professor it's really difficult to do. I I'm like, I can do online teaching or I can do in-person teaching. Please don't, please don't blend the two. So it's an interesting discussion. Um, you know, how how does the college support the students but also support the growing number of faculty with disabilities who are at, with their disabilities as well. I am a fan of calcs. Um, and I, you know, they, and I <laugh>, I don't know if this is appropriate to say they don't have a big enough budget. They never do. They need a bigger budget. If anyone hears this and has control, please give them more money. Speaker 2 00:41:06 Um, and it's, it's, they do a lot of really great work with counseling the students and, and trying to get them the support. And what's great is, you know, when the students need accommodation with the paperwork, it doesn't say what their condition is, which is a great for privacy. So if you do end up with a faculty member who is still learning about this and kind of might have bias against a condition, especially since so many of us are industry that does protect the student's privacy to some degree. It's interesting though cause it can also flip the other way where sometimes the students are like, but I want my professor to ask me about my conditions because I want them to help me more. And so what I do at the beginning of class and when they get to know me, I, it's in my centennial information. Speaker 2 00:41:46 I flat out say at beginning of the class, hi, like, I'm autistic, I have h adhd, I have anxiety disorder, I have a learning disability, I have celiac, like I have a whole bunch of other things. So please go to calcs cuz they can help you and I can help you. And I find that by being open and transparent for the students, a they suddenly have a role model. Um, b they suddenly feel like they have an ally and the disability space in their classroom and then c they just start talking to me about their conditions. And so I end up being the one faculty member in the meeting who knows everyone's health conditions, why they have the accommodation letters, what's going on. And then what's really cute is I have students that then they wanna share with me when they continue, I'm having a bad day, they wanna share their tips of how they get through a bad day. Speaker 2 00:42:33 And I just, it just makes me, this is the kind of world I want where I can have a bad day come to class, Sam having a bad day. So this is gonna be a little bit off for you, but I'm gonna try and then have the other students with similar conditions bounce up to me and give me all kinds of advice cuz they're just so happy that they can relate and bond. Um, so I think more of that, like if we can find this institution a way for faculty to feel more open and transparent, um, being able to hire more people with disabilities, I think it proves great role models for the students. Um, and it normalizes it in industry. So the students who aren't disabled, they're used to it. So if they work in a company and someone's like, oh my gosh, they're autistic, they'll be like, so, you know, it just becomes very normal and, and accepted and, and something we work with rather than fight against. So. Speaker 0 00:43:20 Awesome. Well thank you Sasha, so much for being on the podcast today. Speaker 2 00:43:25 You're welcome, pat. I, I hope that was, that was a lot of information. I threw it everyone I know, but I, that was, that was fun. I hope people enjoy it. Speaker 0 00:43:31 Yeah, I think you definitely gave a lot of things for people to think about and definitely are gonna start some conversations around inclusivity and, and disability within, you know, the, the gaming industry and then also in in school as well. Speaker 2 00:43:45 Excellent. That's my goal. Like I said, I wanna have a different conversation in five years. Yeah. Speaker 0 00:43:49 So <laugh>, we will we'll loop back in. As long as I'm still the host of this show, we'll have another conversation. Yeah, Speaker 2 00:43:55 Sounds good. Awesome. <laugh>, Speaker 0 00:44:01 What insightful conversation on an incredibly important topic to bring to light. I want to thank Sasha for coming on our podcast storyteller in depth, and to you the listener for tuning in. I wanna bring your attention to Centennial Center for Accessible Learning and counseling services that you can access on campus. You can find details on all of their services through centennial's website, triple w dot centennial college.ca/student hyphen life, or go to our socials at Story Art Center to learn more. At the end of every episode, we wanna pose a question that will make you reflect or go in depth, if you will, about the themes we discussed on the podcast today. For this one, we want to know how you stay updated on important diversity and inclusion discussions. Is it through social media or certain websites? Let us know. If you like today's episode, be sure to share with a friend and continue having important conversations on your own. Until next time, I'm Pat Quigley and this is storyteller in depth.

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