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Experience the Human Library

Colleen Smereka spent the first 22 years of her life pretending she could read and write. In her words, she spent her life hiding - until she was diagnosed with a learning disability.

Although dyslexia and processing difficulties continue to pose daily challenges, Smereka, an accessibility advisor, will share how she's grown to thrive beyond her disability at SAIT's first Human Library event. A total of ten human books — all from the SAIT community — can be "borrowed" and will tell personal stories that challenge stigma and evoke conversation.

Challenging expectations

"Lazy, dumb, stupid - I thought I was all those things," says Smereka.

"I lived the first part of my life not knowing I had a learning disability, and the next part trying to deal with my new reality."

After her diagnosis Smereka began to discover tools that helped her to learn. She went to university at age 26, and with a lot of hard work and support from an accessibility advisor, she graduated at the top of her class.

"They helped me to understand how my brain works and I realized I could learn... I also learned to love myself - to accept who I was - that was a big part of it," says Smereka.

"I decided to not hide who I am anymore."

A different point of view

Event organizer and Student Engagement Librarian Sabrina Wong says human libraries, also known as living libraries, provide a unique opportunity for people to access information and learn from lived experience.

"Our human books are people in the SAIT community who deal with variety of challenges, from mental illness to sexism to a learning disability," Wong says.

"Through conversation we break down stereotypes, and we can begin to view people beyond the labels they are given."

Smereka, who is also the assistant coach for the Trojans women's hockey team, says sharing her story lets people better understand what it means to live with a disability, allows those experiencing a learning disability know they are not alone.

"When I was 23 I never thought I'd go to university and now I have two university degrees. I think it's important people have someone to point to who has overcome their challenges, so they can see and think, ‘OK, she did it. Maybe I can, too.'"

SAIT's Human Library was held on Tuesday, Feb. 2, in the Reg Erhardt Library.

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