Ask Me Anything: Accessibility - Thriving vs. Surviving

November 30, 2021 - Defence Stories

Ask me anythin banner

Featuring: Luna Bengio, Esther Berman, Katie Freer, and Myriam Lachance

Co-hosted by: Meenakshi Sharma and Abigaïl Theano-Pudwill

Date and time: Wednesday, December 8th at 1:00 to 2:30 PM EST

Audience: Open to all Government of Canada employees

Register: Online registration form

Link to join: Join the Live Event

Ask Me Anything is now on GC Collab! Click HERE to join the group. Access past recordings of AMAs on YouTube.

Event description

This month’s AMA panel is focused on disability and the right to accommodation in the work place. The panelists will speak about their personal experiences, including living with visible and invisible disabilities, along with self- and societal pressures to minimize the impact of their disabilities on others. They will also dive into the ongoing balance of self-advocacy versus being perceived as a challenge or difficult to accommodate. In addition, the panelist will discuss the stigma that exists both within the disabled and abled communities and the overlapping discrimination that comes with other aspects of their identities. The panel will close with an open discussion on what systemic changes could help increase a sense of diversity, inclusion and belonging within the federal public service.

“Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard."
-Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy

About the Ask Me Anything Series

This session is part of a series of Ask Me Anything sessions that are giving us a platform to share stories, listen, ask respectful questions and continue on our journey to becoming more inclusive organizations.

As individuals you can’t necessarily change where you live, you certainly can’t change your past, but you can adjust who influences you—through the authors you read, music you listen to, movies you watch and interactions with your community. The Ask Me Anything series provides you with an opportunity to increase your perspective—to learn from the lived experiences of individuals who are bravely sharing their stories to help educate and move the public service towards a culture where equity is embedded.

The series also provides an opportunity for you to know that you aren’t alone, these experiences, especially the negative ones are systemic and happen all too frequently throughout the public service. The objective by shining this light is to continually increase the network of public servants ready to take action and move forward towards a culture of inclusivity and belonging.

Meet Our Amazing Panelists

Myriam Lachance

Myriam Lachance

Opening Remarks by Myriam Lachance, (She/Her), Acting Director for the Workplace Wellness programs for the Corporate Services Branch, Health Canada

She has a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Montréal (2002), A Certificate in Organisation Leadership from HEC Montréal (2010) and a Master Business Administration degree (MBA) from the University of Sherbrooke (2016).

She has been a Federal Public Servant for over 3 years now. She has played a key leadership role in the development and modernization of the Workplace Wellness Service Centre under the Workplace Wellness Programs. The Centre is responsible to provide a single access window, client oriented services for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada employees requesting support regarding Disability Management, Duty to Accommodate, Ergonomics and incident reporting for Occupational Health and Safety.

Myriam previously worked over 15 years in both the private and public sector Health Care system actively involved to create rehabilitation services within emergency rooms, post-chirurgical environments and offering innovative services based on population data.

On a personal note, Myriam enjoys the great outdoors paddle boarding and hiking. She also enjoys gardening and reading and spending quality time with family and friends.

Katie Freer

Katie Freer

Katie Freer, Senior Policy Advisor, Health Products and Compliance Directorate, Health Canada

Katie is a 15+year career civil servant, who has worked at several federal departments including the Impact Assessment Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and Health Canada. Katie Freer is a white woman with an invisible disability and mother to neuro-typical and neuro-diverse children. She was born and raised in Canada and holds a strong appreciation for the broad range of diversity that makes up our communities and wants to see it better celebrated in the public and private institutions across the country.

Katie is one of the co-collaborators for the AMA series and has contributed behind the scenes and as the chat moderator from its inception. Katie has also co-moderated several discussions on the privilege spectrum and is committed to using her voice and privilege to amplify others. Katie is dedicated to the concept that without discomfort, change cannot be made and uses both “calling-in” and “calling-out” to advance discussion around the importance of diversity, inclusion and belonging.

Esther Berman

Esther Berman

Esther Berman, Chair, Accessibility Network/Senior Analyst, Innovation Planning and Engagement Directorate, Canadian Coast Guard

Esther Berman was born in Kiev, Ukraine and moved to Toronto, Canada at the age of 6. She graduated from the University of Ottawa with a degree in Business Commerce. Esther worked at Health Canada, as part of the co-op program, and got bridged in as an indeterminate employee in 2011. She joined the Canadian Coast Guard team in 2017, starting in the field of Economic and Industry Intelligence. She is now working with Integrated Business Planning and also chairs the Accessibility Network. Esther lives downtown Ottawa with her guide dog and enjoys hobbies such as horseback riding, water skiing, working out and walking.

Luna Bengio

Luna Bengio

Luna Bengio, Senior Accessibility Expert and Special Advisor, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Luna Bengio is a seasoned Canadian public service executive and accessibility expert. Luna joined the Office of Public Service Accessibility when it was established in August 2018 where she was the Principal Advisor to the Deputy Minister until her retirement in June 2021. Since then, Luna is supporting both the Office of Public Service Accessibility and the Accessibility, Accommodation and Adaptive Computer Technology Program. Luna provides strategic advice on a range of accessibility and inclusion issues, such as workplace adjustments, information and communications technologies, and culture change. She also leads several projects, including the review of policies from an accessibility perspective and the development of the Government of Canada Workplace Accessibility Passport. Prior to this, as Executive Director of Executive Policies, Luna was responsible for all policies and programs related to the management of executives in the Canadian public service, including compensation, terms and conditions of employment, performance management, and leadership development.

Luna joined the federal public service in 1990. Over the last few years, Luna has held several executive positions in areas such as information management and information technology, financial and human resource management, and strategic planning. Prior to joining the Treasury Board Secretariat, Luna led the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Blood Safety Surveillance and Infection Control programs.  She also held the position of Executive Director of the Centre for Communicable Diseases and Infection Control.

Meet Our Co-Moderator

Meenkahi Sharma

Meenkahi Sharma

Meenakshi Sharma, Senior Policy Analyst, Digital Transformation Program, Canada Revenue Agency

Meenakshi has been working with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for over 14 years – she is currently a Senior Policy Analyst with the Digital Transformation Program within the CRA and is a coordinator for the Diversity & Inclusion Network. Also a Carleton University graduate, Meenakshi completed her undergraduate degree in Economics and Business and later received an Associate’s Certificate from Queen’s University in Project Management. Work aside, Meenakshi has been a long-time community builder advocating for the South Asian culture and arts from organizing local festivals to recognizing the need to influence change when it comes to representation and social justice issues. Meenakshi is involved in many grassroots initiatives in her community and shares her journey of being an advocate and empowering others to do the same through blogging and digital content creation. Representation and inclusiveness have always been at the forefront of her work, whether at the Agency or in her personal life.

Meenakshi’s first and utmost priority is being a mother to two little girls, who she calls her warriors. She’s hoping to make a difference and influence impact in some small corner of the world so that her little girls can flourish and live in harmony and acceptance.

Meet the Host of Ask Me Anything

Abigaïl Theano-Pudwill

Abigaïl Theano-Pudwill

Abigaïl Theano-Pudwill, Communications Advisor, Ontario and Prairie Region, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Abigaïl Theano-Pudwill is a communications advisor for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada with a degree in Criminal Justice and Rhetoric from the University of Winnipeg. She is a Haitian refugee who loves to use the arts for community empowerment. Now on an assignment as an analyst with the Department of National Defence focused on diversity and inclusion, she navigates within and continues to advocate for bettering the racial inequities in the federal public service.

Abigaïl has led advocacy work on a local, national and global scale, representing Canada in international spaces as Canada’s Commonwealth National Youth Delegate and various other titles. Since 2014, Abigaïl has worked on promoting youth engagement in governance through the National Student Commonwealth Forum and Youth Parliament of Manitoba (YPM). Her involvement on the board of directors of YPM ended in 2020 as the first black Premier/Chairperson. In 2021, she founded Auxvoir Style Collective, a sustainable styling company based in Winnipeg.

Mission - Ask Me Anything Series

We recognize that individuals are composed of a multitude of layers that make us who we are. We do not fit easily in one box or another and we can’t be neatly counted. We represent the mosaic of Canada.

It is important that we find value in each other’s experiences, differences and unique characteristics. When we build our cultural competencies, we are able to work better together in our teams and respond to each other with relevance, empathy and compassion. By celebrating and sharing our authentic selves, we gain greater appreciation of each other and the diversity that surrounds us.

We know through diversity, workplaces and communities are stronger, more successful and resilient. And most important, it creates spaces of inclusion and fosters a workplace of belonging where people feel valued.


We encourage others to have courageous conversations with their peers. Use the monthly Ask Me Anything sessions as an opportunity to have brave conversations in your workplaces with your teams.

Here’s what you need to do:

After the AMA – Team Session Discussion Questions:

  1. What was my main takeaway – expand and share an amazing quote, story or moment
  2. What made me uncomfortable/ what was one of my blind spots?
  3. What is an example of a systemic discrimination that I am aware of in my life?
  4. What am I not going to do anymore?
  5. How can I use my voice/ influence – both overtly/covertly
  6. Where am I going to dig in and learn more?
  7. How will I continue this conversation?

It is important that we find value in the experiences, the unique characteristics of each other. When we develop our cultural competence, we are able to work better together within our teams and respond to each other with relevant empathy and compassion. By celebrating and sharing our authentic selves, we gain a greater appreciation for each other and the diversity that surrounds us.

Thank you to our contributors

Thank you to our contributors from across the Public Service of Canada – Canadian Coast Guard, Health Canada, National Defence, Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat, Infrastructure Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Anti-Racism Ambassadors Network (ARAN).

MCs:  Meenakshi Sharma and Abigaïl Theano-Pudwill

Panelists: Luna Bengio, Esther Berman, Katie Freer, and Myriam Lachance

AMA Team: Tara Lockhart, Terri-Ann Hurst, Melissa Michaud, Natasha Lim, Jasmine Cousineau, Shelby Racine, Katie Freer, Lyrique Richards, Samantha Moonsammy, Theresa Graham, Liliya Ishkaeva, Laura Raine, Lorraine Mason, Salisa Bose, Kurtis DePippo, Kelly Brewer-Balch.

Page details

Date modified: