Episode 17: Winnie Looby & Nicole Villemaire

Dr. Winnie Looby, director of the UVM Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies, connects with disability self-advocate and researcher Nicole Villemaire. Nicole has been working in Dr. Looby’s Disability Studies courses as a teaching assistant, and she shares what that experience has been like, along with more of her own story as a passionate self-advocate.

To learn more about the Disability Studies graduate certificate, please visit go.uvm.edu/disabilitystudies

Watch this episode:

Winnie Looby: Hello. My name is Winnie Looby. I’m with CDCI, as our academics coordinator and I also coordinate our graduate certificate program.

Today, I wanted to interview my colleague Nicole here, and we’ll talk a bit about our work together. So, Nicole, glad you could come. Okay. So my first question is, could you tell us what your relationship to disability is? And if you identify as a person with a disability?

Nicole Villemaire: Well, I can answer the question. My name is Nicole Villemaire, and I identify with a disability. I also my relationship to disability is that I have multiple disabilities, and one of them is autism. And one of them is an emotional disability, for which I go do behavioral therapy. And then I have go some fine motor skills difficulties.

Winnie: Thanks for telling me that. So what’s your relationship to the CDCI? I know you worked for CDCI long before I worked here. So how did you get involved in CDCI?

Nicole: Well, I actually was a office assistant. I got hired as an officer since then. Back a while back. And then I was like a mentor with. With some with someone with a coworker named was a coworker that also worked for CCI. And then and on the the what was said, they the advisory committee for CDI. And then I and then I became a member. I was on the advisory committee for quite a while and then I started working with whenI uh, doing some classes for teaching as work.

I also went to the Think College program at UVM with Brian Dague. And then I did some other work. I’m working on my research project on Think College with Jesse Suter and Brian Dague. I’m trying to complete that… and that’s about it. That’s my relationship with CDCI.

Winnie: Yeah, you’re busy. I don’t think we’ve talked about all those things at the same time because that’s a lot. What’s it been like? I guess you can talk about the class.

Nicole: Sure. Like at first we worked on we were we’re working on designing a new class that we couldn’t run on because we don’t have enough students. So it’s about kind of like self-advocacy. Of course, we worked on that first, but then when that course didn’t run, you started to to for me, for our class or disability class.

Winnie: Right. So what’s what’s your experience been like so far?

Nicole: My experience with the Culture of Disability class has been quite amazing. I get to hop onto the class and teach like, the viewpoint of self I receive from someone who has a disability. And I get to like, talk to the class and also I’ve learned a lot, like what the classes are. Not really taking the class, but I get to — as a teacher, I get to listen in on the class and be able to follow along with the videos, and the readings, and hear what everybody is working on.

And it’s kind of cool.  I like it. I think it’s cool to learn stuff about the class, even though I’m not exactly taking it. Like I get to hop on and off. I don’t have to do the work.

Winnie: Gotcha. Yeah, I know. The students really enjoy when you’re there to like, lead conversations.

Nicole: Yeah, I like leading conversations. Yeah, especially around–

Winnie: I remember we were talking about your interest in self-advocacy. Like as a career. So has the class kind of been a nice practice toward that? Like: talking about the things that you’re interested in, independent living and working and stuff like that?

Nicole: Yeah. So like, talking about independent living and working and just being a peer specialist and doing everyday stuff that everyone else gets to. Though I just have to do it my own way.

Winnie: Gotcha. So what’s the most satisfying thing about doing teaching for the Culture of Disability [class]?

Nicole: Well, it’s satisfying that I’m working, so I get to be on the payroll for CDCI. What’s satisfying is that I get to meet the students, and I get to learn about them, and I get to like, learn about the class and contribute with my self advocacy, and advocacy with disability rights.

I get to teach them about what is to include someone with a disability, so they can see a picture of what it’s like with someone with a disability taking a course and doing things that everyone else can do.

Winnie: Yeah. Yeah. So they’re learning a lot from just that you’re there and and being included and helping to run the class. Well, so what’s the most challenging thing? I know we were first starting to work together. I hadn’t thought through how to get you materials ahead of time. I remember that being [a challenge] and it’s still kind of hard for me to do that. The my organization’s probably my challenge, but what about you? What’s been like challenging about being a teaching assistant (T.A.)?

Nicole: What’s been challenging about being a T.A. is like the time management. I’ve been able to get on the class and been able to do the class, and sometimes, like, I don’t understand, like, what’s going on in the class, but I like contributing to the class. And when I am able to, I will lead the sections of the class.

But what’s challenging is just being able to know what’s going on. Like without, like working on class stuff together. Like, we sometimes, like, have trouble, like organizing and putting together the programs so that I can be involved with the class as well, in a unique way.

Winnie: Yeah, Yeah. So we have to be really flexible and kind of I know when we have our meetings to plan, we have to, you know, just get to work right away and kind of figure out what we’re going to do.

And I think every semester it’s been a little bit different, which for me is kind of exciting. But I also know that I’m hoping we can kind of find a — what do I want to say? –I hope to be more consistent with like how I, how I share things with you and how we, like, create things together more and more?

Because a lot of the stuff in the class has been pretty much the same for a few years. But, you know, I really like when you give me more ideas to kind of embed,  abd make it more unique. I really like that a lot.

What’s the most surprising thing that you’ve learned about students?

Nicole: The surprising thing that I learned that students that they have usually a lot to share and sometimes they have a lot share. They usually have a lot to share, but sometimes are like really shy at first to open up. And I like just hearing about what they’re up to and what they’re learning from the class and growing as a person, like learning about disabilities and like, being a UVM student. Just some fascinating times.

There was one student, one class that also somewhat had a disability, so that was kind of cool.

Winnie: Yeah. Yeah, we have, we have students, a good number of students with disabilities in our classes, but they don’t all feel as comfortable talking about it as you do. And so, yeah. Yes, I know. I think and think remembering the student you’re talking about, like they they really don’t mind at all. They like talking about their experiences.

Nicole: Yeah, that was like, really nice to have folks be open about it. Like, I try to talk about my disabilities too, and sometimes I forget like, trying to make people feel more welcome. Yeah.

Winnie: Yeah, I like making people feel comfortable and welcome. Like they maybe open up about things that they’re struggling with, the things that they’re doing. And yeah, they learn a lot. I agree.

Okay. This is the last question, actually. Really fast. What’s one thing you would like everyone, but especially students, to know about your experience with disability?

Nicole: One thing that I would like everyone to know about my experience with disability is to be patient. Be kind. Don’t like, treat me like a child. [Treat me] like me; like, I’m just like everyone else, and able to contribute to the world in my own way. Treat me like a peer, because I want to grow and learn and contribute to life just like everyone else does, I just have to do it in my own way with my processing and my disability.



Green Mountain Disability Stories is the monthly podcast of the UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI). Each episode features a conversation on some aspect of disability, by and with people with disabilities and their families and advocates. The views of guests on the podcast do not necessarily reflect those of the CDCI.

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