UNB News
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Supporting accessibility and wellness in legal education

Author: Angie Deveau

Posted on May 28, 2024

Category: UNB Fredericton

Nat Perry

During Disability Awareness Week, we celebrate the remarkable contributions of individuals who embody the spirit of this year's theme: “Embracing Accessibility, Inspiring Change.”

One such person is Nat Perry, the wellness advisor in the faculty of law at the University of New Brunswick (UNB). Her work and personal journey is an example of determination, creativity and a commitment to fostering a more inclusive environment for all.

A unique perspective on wellness and education

Nat Perry, an alum of UNB (BA'16, MEd'21), has dedicated her career to enhancing student well-being and most recently, promoting a balanced lifestyle in the high-pressure realm of legal education. As the first wellness advisor within the faculty of law, Perry had the support of the dean to integrate health and wellness into law students' academic and professional development.

"I aim to offer students a confidential space to be themselves, explore what unique needs they may have, and determine ways we can navigate systems and processes together to best support their academic success," Perry said, highlighting her vision for fostering an inclusive and supportive environment.

Her role involves designing and delivering educational programs that emphasize the importance of mental, physical and emotional health. Through one-on-one coaching and counselling sessions, Perry helps students navigate the demanding landscape of law school, co-developing personalized wellness strategies that empower them to achieve their academic and professional goals while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

A multifaceted professional

A diverse array of roles marks Perry’s professional journey, all centered around supporting and uplifting individuals. She has held various positions at UNB, including outreach coordinator at Renaissance College and career & employment advisor at UNB's Career Development and Employment Centre. Her extensive experience includes running groups, facilitating workshops and talks to audiences on topics ranging from career development to managing procrastination. Perry's holistic approach to counselling and wellness has made her an invaluable asset to the UNB community.

An artist at heart

Beyond her professional endeavours, Perry is also a talented artist who has overcome personal challenges to pursue her passion. Born with a congenital limb condition called symbrachydactyly, she uses a unique art technique using ink and string, allowing her to create stunning pieces with her right hand and her affected hand, or what she refers to as her “stub.” This innovative method not only showcases her creativity but also symbolizes her ability to turn perceived limitations into opportunities for expression and growth.

Perry's art, often abstract or landscape-themed, is a testament to her resilience and ingenuity. Despite a demanding career and family life, she finds time to create and donate her artwork to local charities, contributing to her community in meaningful ways.

Supporting accessibility and inclusion

Perry's personal and professional experiences position her as a powerful advocate for accessibility and inclusion. Her work within the faculty of law underscores the importance of integrating wellness into educational practices, ensuring that all students, regardless of their challenges, have the support they need to succeed.

"My hope is that the theme of this awareness week can act as a cause for learning and a call to action," Perry said. "Spaces of education hold the values of critical thought and innovation as highly important. Postsecondary is a wonderful place to discuss innovations in universal design, to challenge the status quo, to examine the impacts of policies, to unpack representations, and to be curious about how our spaces and systems exclude members of our community."

Integrating wellness into legal education

Perry explained how law school and the legal profession can be very challenging but also highly rewarding.

"The learning curve from first-year law school to their first year in articling positions is a steep one,” she said. “With the intensity of this experience, and the common desire to excel in this space, it can be easy for students to lose sight of their physical, emotional and mental health as they spend more and more of their time on academics. Reminding students that accessing supports, like counselling, the accessibility centre and recreation services are all part of their academic success, and normalizing this, can be so helpful."

Perry emphasized the importance of strategies for maintaining a healthy work-life balance, especially within the demanding context of law school.

"Work-life balance can be difficult to quantify, as it looks completely different for everyone,” she said. “However, I would say an important step would be to cultivate the practice of self-compassion.”

“Our inner critic can be vicious. For students with disabilities, feelings of exclusion, navigating systems that are not designed with them in mind, and the work of having to self-advocate takes an added toll. Practicing self-compassion as they adapt to the experience of law school in their own unique context can ease the pressures of perfectionism and elevated expectations."

Personal experience shaping professional approach

Perry's personal experience as someone with a disability profoundly influences her approach to wellness and inclusion.

"Being a person with a visible disability has absolutely shaped my approach," she shared. "I’m shaped by an early understanding of what it means to feel different, to feel like an outsider at times. This intimate understanding fuels my commitment to help the students I work with experience a sense of belonging, that they are welcome here, that their voices matter."

Photo credit: Karrie Nash