Updated: Apr 24
Tony, Andrew, and Tami are three self-advocates making a big difference in Kamloops
April 24th, 2022
SUSA - Speaking Up Self-Advocacy Awareness Group- is one of BC's leading self-advocacy groups, championing community inclusion in Kamloops and across the province.
We talked with three SUSA members - Tony, Andrew, and Tami - about their passions, beginnings in self-advocacy, and favourite memories over the years.
THE CLIMBER: TONY CUGLIETTA
Tony Cuglietta has reached great heights - literally.
The self-advocate from Kamloops has not only made it to the top of BC's self-advocacy movement, he's also scaled one of the world's tallest mountains.
Tony after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
How did you get involved in self-advocacy? Tony: It started by being on board of the Kamloops Society for Community Living before it changed names.
It was when I started attending workshops and conferences that I got really into though. It felt cool to speak out, and since I have a big voice it was a good fit. I have a passion for helping people become independent, and that motivated me to get involved in more things. Now with SUSA I've been chairing meetings too.
What are your favourite parts of self-advocacy? Tony: My favourite would have to be the workshops, meeting new people, the dinners, and learning what's happening in other parts of the province. What issues are most important to you? Tony: Independent living, housing, poverty, and being a part of the community. People need to be included and able to participate as much as they want to.
What are your goals for the year? Tony: To get back in-person and talking to people in the community. I'm really a social guy, and also have a buddy program I want to start.
Years back I got an idea to bring together people who are usually isolated, get them into groups, and do fun things like go to the movies and then talk about it over dinner or dessert. I was about to start this up, but then COVID happened. And in general, I just want to make new friends and get new members in SUSA.
Looking back, what's been your biggest achievement in self-advocacy?
Tony: I'd have to say climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
We got all these societies and groups together. There was a big anniversary and we wanted to raise money and awareness for it, so someone suggested that a bunch of advocates climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa.
We had to raise $80,000 to make it happen, so we helped organize fundraising galas and sponsorships and also did media. It all worked out and in 2006 we went to Tanzania and began the climb. It took a few weeks and we had to live on the mountain, but we did it!
We also got to do safaris, explored downtown Tanzania, and it was a big success.
THE HOCKEY FANATIC: ANDREW EMBURY
Andrew Embury's a true hockey fan, and an avid supporter of the Kamloops Blazers. He's also SUSA's go-to man for notetaking.
Andrew's SUSA's leading hockey fanatic and notetaker
Tell us about yourself
Andrew: I love hockey. I'm a hockey player, go to hockey games in Kamloops, and watch the NHL on TV.
I'm a big fan of the Kamloops Blazers, Vancouver Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights, and Seattle Kraken.
How did you get involved in self-advocacy? Andrew: SUSA needed some extra support at the time, so I joined around 2015 to help with secretarial stuff like taking notes. Tami also helps with the notes, so we do it as a team. I stay involved because I enjoy talking about the issues and how we can help in the community. I also have a great time with the open houses and fun activities.
What's been your favourite moment from your advocacy work? Andrew: One that I remember was just recently. I was with Tony, and Tami was with Vicki (SUSA member Vicki Abbot), and we gave presentations on living a healthy lifestyle.
Tony and I presented an exercise piece, and Tami and Vicki talked about healthy eating. It was a lot of fun and felt good to be educating the community. What issues are most important to you?
Andrew: Making Kamloops and BC more accessible. There's no excuse for new buildings to have access barriers.
I also want to get more people involved in self-advocacy. If you're interested in checking out or joining SUSA, we'd love to have you involved.
THE ARTIST: TAMI PEDERSON
Tami Pederson always had a sharp artistic eye. But it was spotting barriers in society that led her to become a passionate self-advocate.
Tami's a talented painter, crafter, and community champion
Tell us about yourself
Tami: I'm very outgoing and I enjoy painting and crafting.
The other day I made tile coasters, with my friend's cat on them. Speaking of animals, I love them all, even though I'm allergic to many.
How did you get involved in self-advocacy? Tami: My last job was at COSTCO as a food demonstrator, but I started having tremors and couldn't work there any longer.
When my tremors started, I started noticing more barriers in society. I wanted to remove those, and also change perceptions of what it is to be diverse. We're still very capable, it just sometimes takes longer to get the hang of stuff.
I like to use the term diverse abilities, because we're all different, but we all have our strengths we bring.
What do you enjoy about being part of SUSA? Tami: Having fun, being accepted and not having to try to please anyone, and working with the other members like Tony, Andrew, and Vicki. They teach me a lot.
Our group supporter Justine's also fantastic. If I get down, I can talk to her. My depression grew worse due to the pandemic, with too many things being done on Zoom, and she helped me bounce back.
I hear you have some business ambitions Tami: I want to start my own business with my paintings and crafts. When I made a nice big painting for my friend they really liked it, and that made me proud.
I've made lots of crafts and paintings and want more people to experience them.
What message do you have for other self-advocates?
Tami: Just be yourself, don't be anyone else that they want you to be, be who you are. If you're proud of yourself, people will be proud of you.
I am who I am. I have a few close friends and that's all I need. I'm a lovable and good person, and if you don't like it, that's your problem.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!