Written by BCPF Advocacy Committee Members Jo-Anne Gauthier, Charlene Barney, and Meghan Atkinson-Smith
Safe and accessible sidewalks and passageways are a right, not a privilege. Though, not everyone in our cities and towns across BC has access to wide enough, safe, and debris-free passageways. This avoidable societal problem takes away many people’s right to participate in and contribute to their community. Even the most basic accommodations are not consistently in place, such as automatic sliding doors.
People experiencing mobility challenges have a right to get to the same places anyone else can reach. But this is not happening because our city planning practices are not prioritizing accessibility for all. The current system discriminates against not only people with physical mobility challenges and visual impairments but also seniors and people using strollers or delivering items to others, for example. Disability rights are human rights. When we accommodate the accessibility needs of all people in society, everyone benefits. It’s truly that simple.
Accessibility rights are ignored when people cannot participate fully in society without barriers. Encounters with poles, bins, or signs that block access is commonplace for people who operate wheelchairs. Even unmarked holes occur from time to time. Sometimes sidewalks without fully accessible ramps mean that someone is left to face oncoming traffic until another ramp pops up. A lot of sidewalks are not wide enough in our communities. Many buildings don’t have accessible entryways for people who are blind or have visual impairments. And sometimes there is no accessible entry at all in public or commercial areas. These are just a few of the societal barriers put in place that restrict people’s accessibility rights. It is past the time of saying ‘it was different back when these things were built so it’s not our fault’. Things need to change. We shouldn't have to imagine an accessible world.
Sidewalks and passageways should be accessible at every point along the way, without obstructions. For this to be possible, sidewalks need to be significantly wider in general and pedestrian areas need to be optimized. Automatic doors should be mandatory everywhere. Talking doors and elevators should be mandatory everywhere. Public spaces should not continue to be prioritized for cars over pedestrians such as it has been for so long.
Accessibility rights in city planning need to be improved and strictly enforced to build awareness in our communities that accessibility for all is not optional. Anyone could end up being faced with mobility barriers at some point in life and we can do better to address the accessibility needs of all people. It is possible because after all, these barriers are put there by society in the first place. Even the name sidewalk itself is ableist when you stop to think about it.
Winter season has begun, and people now also face obstacles such as piles of snow being pushed into pedestrian walkways, making them too narrow for some to pass. Or encountering unlit pedestrian areas that restrict sight in the darkness over uneven ground. Even holiday decorations sometimes dangerously block people’s paths. All pedestrians deserve the safest experience possible. The way to do this is to ensure all public passages are accessible for all.
The coronavirus pandemic has definitely highlighted another reason that cities should be built with wider access in all areas where people are walking and rolling together in groups. Space in public passageways is an accessibility and a health need. Prioritizing safe pedestrian areas is important for so many reasons but especially because our cities and towns should be made for everyone.
We can start the process of taking action to ensure accessibility for all by making automatic sliding doors and talking doors mandatory in all public and commercial spaces. We can create policy around wider sidewalks to prioritize safe pedestrian areas for all, plus so much more! Accessibility for all in our public passageways is possible and we have the resources and technology available to accomplish this.
We are asking all our BC City Councillors, Mayors, and Ministers to create better and more inclusive accessibility standards in city planning and building policies. We want to hear back from our government officials across BC about their plans to remove mobility barriers faced by many and to make our communities truly accessible for all.
Written by Manjeet Ghangass, BCPF Member & SALN Member
October 25, 2020
I have overcome many barriers in life, including childhood trauma, but the biggest obstacle I have had to face in my life so far is being born with Down Syndrome. I am strong, resilient, and brave. Though, the older I get, the more I realize that being born with Down Syndrome really should not have been one of the toughest obstacles to overcome. This is because disability is not the obstacle – the way society treats people with disabilities is the real obstacle.
I have overcome the challenges of being born with Down Syndrome through words of encouragement from friends and learning from others’ motivational life stories. I have also learned many effective coping strategies for living a good healthy life by participating in activities that were person centered. Activities and lessons focused on people’s strengths should be the goal for all support staff of people with disabilities. We deserve to be considered as people first and not just be seen by the labels others give us.
I have learned that self-advocacy is one of the most important tools for success but that it is also very important to look out for others who cannot advocate for themselves. I was lucky growing up that I had a group of extremely close friends. We helped each other advocate for our rights. And by advocating for my own needs in high school, I was able to have multiple Individualized Educational Plans, necessary modifications to the curriculum, and extra instructional teaching supports that helped me find alternative ways of reaching my goals and being happy. I have learned that I have to be a self-advocate to get the best supports, it is necessary. But a question I have for service providers and government officials is why aren’t individualized person-centered supports the norm – why do we have to fight for our basic rights and needs?
Without the wonderful positive life experiences of many truly caring people supporting me with my desires to live this kind of healthy, happy, safe, successful, and fully independent lifestyle I would not be where I am right now in life. I would not be the kind of person I am today and truly believe that I most definitely would not still be alive today. I am very grateful for the many people who have stood by my side, who helped me when I needed help, who loved me through the good times and bad. I want to show my appreciation for the trustworthy people who have helped me – my mom, best friends, and my boyfriend – I am proud to know you and thank you for all that you do.
My wish for the future is that all people would have this kind of support, person-centered support. And not just from family and friends, but from service providers and the government as well. Please remember that we are people, too, and deserve to be treated how you would want to be treated if you were in our situation. We’re all in this together.
Representation matters. We hear this all the time and it really is true. Representation matters! But what does this mean?
It means that everyone deserves to feel like they belong in our society – regardless of gender, economic standing, race, sexual identity, or disability. It means there should be vast diversity among people in positions of power and authority – like politicians, actors, athletes,
directors, writers, doctors, managers, and more. It means the popular media we use to tell and share stories should represent everyone, not just a few. As a society we consume a lot of media and most people, including policymakers and service providers, are heavily influenced by TV, movies, and other popular media. It is becoming more and more clear that throughout the history of media and within our policy-making systems, not all people have been represented fairly.
But at BC People First we are optimistic because it feels like people with disabilities are starting to have real representation in society for the first time…on our TV screens at least! We say for the first time because we believe that representation in media is not just about having a character on screen with a disability or someone in the background to check off that diversity box. But that it happens when all people are included throughout the entire media process – and when people are empowered to represent themselves.
We have noticed a shift in the past couple of years, where people with developmental and learning disabilities are starting to be represented in a more equitable way in media. For example, people with disabilities are playing roles as actors and not only having non-disabled actors playing the roles of people with disabilities. Representation is more than just being identified in media, it is about authenticity and social justice, too.
We know from experience what it feels like to be underrepresented in media. We are optimistic about the future knowing true representation for people with developmental disabilities (and other minorities) is getting better.
Here are a few new shows and movies that BCPF Members say are totally worth checking out right now:
· The Peanut Butter Falcon
· Stumptown - tv show, rated
· Stranger Things
· The Politician
· Lady Dynamite
· Douglas by Hannah Gadsby
· Crip Camp
Media is how people tell and share stories. Research shows that on average Canadians spend 6 hours per day with media. Almost everyone engages with TV, movies, and the news. Stories are powerful. And they should come from people with experience in the subject matter to avoid perpetuating stereotypes. Media is such a big part of our lives so when we don’t have access to diverse stories from lots of types of people it is easy to think that differences are not normal. But different is normal – disability is normal.
We are all different and all have unique goals, struggles, and needs. We all have a story to tell that deserves to be shared and might just help someone else feel like they belong. When disability is talked about, highlighted, and celebrated in public forums like media, it needs to by people with lived-experiences. Understanding this simple concept and embracing representation in media for all will help our society become naturally inclusive towards people who are often left out.
It is always worth it to remember the saying “nothing about us without us” because including people in what stories are told about them is real representation. As self-advocates, we do not think it is okay to highlight stories or education about people with disabilities and not include them in the conversation or the process. We want everyone to be careful about where they get their stories from. We highly recommend getting information about disability from people who experience it on a daily basis, people with expertise and knowledge.
BCPF Members agree that when people feel wholly represented in popular media they also feel more connected to their community and have a greater sense of belonging. This is why equal representation in media and other platforms really does matter – it can reduce feelings of social isolation for many and help stop the very stressful pressures that come with not feeling like we fit into society. This matters to us at BC People First and we hope it matters to you, too.
Written by Conrad Tyrkin, BCPF Youth Leadership Committee Chairperson and Board Secretary.
June 11, 2020
We are looking for 5 to 10 BC People First Members who are between the ages of 16-29 to join our Youth Leadership Committee.
If you are not a BCPF Member yet, you can find information and sign up HERE. Membership is free. Sign up to assist us in our mission for advocating for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; to ensure that all people are given their rights to freedom, choice, respect, dignity, and inclusion in their daily lives. BC People first is a volunteer-run nonprofit society operated BY people who have been labelled FOR people who have been labelled – to make sure our labels don’t define us or others.
Our Youth Leadership Committee focuses on advocating for the rights and needs of young adults and teens who identify as having an intellectual or developmental disability. We want the voices of young adults to be heard. We also want to spread awareness about self-advocacy and standing up for human rights with youth in our communities.
As a Committee Member, you support our volunteer Board of Directors on research projects, community events, and doing presentations. You can expect to volunteer for approximately 5 to 8 hours per month including attending the committee meetings. We host meetings virtually by phone or video so Committee Members can be from anywhere in the province of BC. In their roles, Committee Members learn or grow key advocacy skills and help change the future!
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in joining the BC People First Youth Leadership Committee. Send us a message with your name, why you want to join the team, and any questions you have. We hope to hear from you!
Join us for virtual video meetings on Tuesdays from 7pm – 8pm, fro now until December 15th, 2020.
These meetings are a place for Members, Self-Advocates, BCPF Supporters, and friends from across BC to discuss issues that matter to us. Join us on Zoom to connect, learn with us, share stories or concerns, and ask questions!
Please register by clicking HERE. You can attend just one meeting or attend every week. Tuesday evenings 7PM to 8PM. We hope you can make it to at least a few. Be sure you download the Zoom app on your computer or smartphone. Attend just one meeting or a few, we’ll be glad to have you there.
Each Tuesday will bring new discussion topics and good conversation with friends. We are here for you! This is a safe space where we can talk about what is affecting us right now, good and bad. We want to hear what you’re feeling about the coronavirus pandemic but also anything else you want us to share with us at BC People First. What matters to you right now? What do you want BCPF to advocate for in our province? Do you have any good things to share with others? Do you have any questions or concerns you want us to pass on for you to CLBC or the government? Overall, we want to connect with our BCPF Members and other Self-Advocates during these times of social distancing while we can’t plan our usual in-person social events and educational activities.
Thanks for joining us! You do not need to be a BC People First Member to attend these calls but we encourage all self-advocates and people who have felt labelled by their disability to become members. Help grow the People First movement in BC and stand up to ableism in our society! Membership is free. Click HERE to find out more information about becoming a BCPF Member.
Have you been wondering what we have been up to with SALN this past year?
The Self Advocate Leadership Network of British Columbia, or SALN, is made up of a group of leaders from organizations across the province with a focus on advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. Our mission at SALN is to promote a good life through
positive and informed: actions, networking, and advocacy. We want the self-advocacy movement to be strong and to grow.
The group formed in May of 2019 as a way to bring the voices of Self-Advocates to those who need to hear us. We take the issues that matter – to us as Self-Advocates, our friends and family members with diverse-abilities, and to the members of our organizations – and bring them to the forefront of provincial discussions with decision-makers and service providers.
We’ve been meeting virtually twice a week during the coronavirus pandemic – to discuss how we can further help self-advocates and to ensure information from the government is provided in accessible plain language. If you’d like to know more about what activities and discussions we’ve been taking part in since the coronavirus outbreak, click the links here to review our SALN News-Sheets:
Written by Roxci Bevis, BCPF Provincial Coordinator
April 28, 2020
On April 18th, Ariis Knight, a 40-year old BC woman, was denied her right for accessible communication by health-care providers at Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock, BC. Many people, including members of her family, self-advocates, and disability rights activists believe this resulted in her unnecessary death. Ariis was admitted to the hospital with flu-like symptoms and later passed away alone after her medical options were not presented to her and her support network was not contacted appropriately.
Understandably, the coronavirus pandemic is a challenging time for all people involved and that there is a lot of pressure on the health-care system right now. We agree it is important to have strict measures in place at hospitals due to the severity of the situation – but at the same time, it is ALWAYS unacceptable for any government official, support staff, or health care provider to deny a person their right to communicate or make their own medical decisions.
Ariis had limited mobility due to cerebral palsy and was non-verbal, she needed assistance in expressing herself and this was her right as a human being. Ariis was able to make decisions on her own and did have people in her life who were able to help her communicate her decisions. Her right to make her own health-care decisions was stripped away from her. “The biggest thing that really bothered me is she died alone and she didn’t need to” her brother told Peace Arch News. He said by the time family or any of Ariis’s support network at the Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) knew she was nearing the end of her life, there was no time for any of them to reach her. Her brother says he made it clear to hospital officials shortly after learning his sister had been admitted to the hospital that he should be the “point person” on the file for any updates or changes. But he wasn’t asked any questions about her wishes or advised when his sister’s condition worsened. It appears that hospital officials never tried to find out how Ariis communicated and that there was a major lack of communication altogether.
All people in Canada have the right to communicate in a way that they can give and receive information. Not everyone communicates in the same way. If someone is non-verbal it does not mean that they do not have a thought process, it does not mean that they do not understand what is going on around them at a high level. Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2010 but often, the rights of people with developmental disabilities are still overlooked. Parties to the CRPD are required to promote and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights for people with disabilities including full equality under the law. We feel at least 3 rights Ariis should have been guaranteed under CRPD have been violated. Canada has also acceded to the Optional Protocol to the CRPD. Accession to the Optional Protocol means that Canadians have the ability to make a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities if they believe their rights under the Convention have been violated. We hope when they feel ready and if they feel it is needed, that Ariis’ family is able to take this step on her behalf. Together we can all work to change the systemic discrimination throughout our society towards people with developmental disabilities and the assumptions that we cannot make important decisions for ourselves.
BC People First Members are deeply saddened by the passing of Ariis. It is also very scary for some people when they are reminded that the rights of people with developmental disabilities are not taken seriously in our ableist society. This situation could happen to any one of us and it is preventable. We will not forget Ariis or what has happened to her. We will be advocating with the government for enhancements to communication protocols at hospitals, even during a pandemic, through letter-writing campaigns and speaking engagements over the next few months. We recently partnered with the Self Advocate Leadership Network of BC (SALN) to come up with solutions to help solve problems like this and ensure that ALL service providers in British Columbia understand the rights ALL people have when it comes to communication, accessibility, relationships, and plain language.
BCPF will remember you Ariis and we will fight for change in your name!
Congratulations to the winners of our 2019 BC People First Advocacy & Leaderships Awards!
We are excited to present the awards in-person to Kara and a member of Jerry’s family as soon as we are able to. All of our events are on hold right now due to the coronavirus pandemic but we still wanted to share news of the winners with you all.
As President, I selected Jerry Laidlaw for our 2019 President’s Award in honour of his memory and the legacy he has left inspiring self-advocates throughout his lifetime. Jerry was a person who never gave up. He had a big heart and always kept his head up proud. He inspired others to stay positive and never give up on their dreams. He taught us all that our rights and needs should never be forgotten. He will always be with us because we have learned so much from him.
Our 2019 Self-Advocate Leadership of the Year Award is by nomination and has been awarded to Kara Anderson. Kara was nominated by Eve Reinarz and Gwen Harmen for so many reasons – she is a fearless leader and strong voice in advocating, presenting and sharing her story with organizations, government and the community at large about navigating life and society as a person with diversability. She is an admirable advocate on how to access services and resources and shape legislation. She reminds people how important it is to learn to advocate for yourself and others. This past year, Kara sat on several boards, committees and organizations including the Self Advocates of Nanaimo (SAN); Community Council (CLBC); Advisory Committee, Community Support Worker/Educational Assistant Programs at Vancouver Island University (VIU); and is a Resource Parent at the Family Support Institute of BC (FSIBC), just to name a few. Kara also works as a professional workshop presenter for “Welcome Workshops” at CLBC and “People Planning Together” at ESATTA and presents throughout B.C.
To everyone else nominated, good luck next year! Nominations for the 2020 Self-Advocate Leadership of the Year Award will be open in January 2021. This award showcases the importance of advocacy and encourages all self-advocates to continue to lead and to be inspired. Winners are selected following a decision process and receive a $200 honorarium award (to assist in approved BCPF advocacy efforts) and a plaque. Any Self-Advocate with an intellectual disability living in British Columbia is eligible for this award after being nominated by a peer, colleague, or support worker.