Inclusion BC advocates for British Columbians with intellectual and developmental disabilities
By Spencer van Vloten
July 23rd. 2021
For nearly 70 years, Inclusion BC has been at the forefront of advocacy to enhance the lives of British Columbians with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Spencer van Vloten talked with Inclusion BC's Executive Director Karla Vershoor about the organization's history, the current challenges it's tackling, and how to make a difference in the life of someone with an intellectual or developmental disability.
Spencer: Inclusion BC recently celebrated an anniversary of sorts - tell us about the organization's background.
Karla: In June we had our 66th AGM, so we’ve been around a while, but we’ve been through a lot of change during that time.
Inclusion BC originated as 5 separate family groups that came together to build homes and schools to bring children out of institutions. Families wanted better lives for their loved ones out in the community. The large scale institutions have closed, but many of the same problems exist.
From the original 5 family groups, we now have 61 member organizations around province. We're part of Inclusion Canada, which is part of Inclusion International, so we belong to a global web furthering the rights of persons with intellectual disabilities.
Spencer: What about your own background working with people with diverse abilities?
Karla: My aunt has an intellectual disability and moved out of institution into the community – so our work has deep roots in my family’s story.
I moved to BC from Ontario 15 years ago, and at that time reached out to the BC Association for Community Living (now Inclusion BC) because I wanted to be involved in the work they were doing.
Karla (left) at the parliament building in Ottawa with Inclusion BC team members Bendina (centre) and Fiona (right)
I started as a volunteer, then had my first job as a self-advocate coordinator, helping self-advocates find own voice, and working with former residents of Woodlands and other institutions.
I went through pretty much every role in the organization, until ending up here as the executive director!
Spencer: What are the main issues Inclusion BC's focused on now?
Karla: When you do advocacy for years after years after years, you start to see pain points in the system.
Right before the 2020 provincial election we wrote to all the major provincial parties about these points, and the response we got back was discouraging.
Even though have we have partnerships with many political representatives, the changes we wanted to see weren't making it into party platforms.
This lack of political response kick-started our Diversity Includes campaign. Our goal's to meet up with every elected politician in BC at the provincial and federal levels, and to connect people with diverse abilities to their public representatives so they can tell them directly what needs to change.
We're anchoring this to some of our more active campaigns, for example Kids Can’t Wait, which addresses how far too many children with intellectual disabilities never get the supports or services they need, ageing out of school before these become available.
As part of these campaigns, we are also addressing childcare, including challenging the idea and language that universal childcare's being unrolled across BC when so many kids with disabilities still can’t get care.
Exclusion in BC schools has grown worse during the pandemic
Another focus is education, with 50 percent of advocacy calls we get being related to exclusion in schools.
Along with our partner BCEdAccess, we track exclusion in schools and work on finding out how to stop this, as well as how to support young adults with diverse abilities and their families when they transition out of school.
An important thing to note is that pre-COVID, 37.7 percent of parents were considering pulling their children out of school due to a lack of support, but that has risen to over 50 percent.
Exclusion and a lack of support for students with intellectual disabilities has definitely gotten worse.
Spencer: Recently the Accessible BC Act was passed – what’s your response to it?
Karla: I was involved in a committee to help shape the legislation and participated in early consultations, and one of my concerns is that, when you look at other provinces and the USA, accessibility legislation hasn’t been historically impactful for people with intellectual disabilities.
I’m excited to see stuff like learning and communication disabilities included in the legislation, and would say I’m cautiously optimistic, but it’s too early to say more than that.
We have the framework but don’t know much else; it will come down to development of standards, and who's creating them.
Spencer: There have been some unpleasant reports about persons with intellectual disabilities being neglected in group homes.
How's the housing situation across BC for adults with intellectual disabilities?
Karla: There are elements in those stories that are more generalizable, then there elements that are more unique to those situations.
Every group home in BC is not created equal. There are group homes that I would call places of dignity -especially compared to long-term care settings for those who are older- and there are some that would be accurately classified as institutional or custodial care.
When we look to provide a group home model of housing, we need to ask whose interest this is in. Then we need to ask what safeguards are in place. What’s important under any housing model is that the persons living there are at the centre of their care plans, that their voices are heard, and their rights respected.
What's important under any housing model is that the persons living there are at the centre of their care plans, that their voices are heard, and their rights respected
Options are very limited in BC for persons with diverse abilities who want to live on their own.
5,000 people with intellectual disabilities will need a new place to live in next 5 years, so municipalities need to ask: are we including people with disabilities in housing plans? Are we looking beyond just physical access? Are there rental supplements that will help persons with disabilities afford housing?
Unfortunately we have to play catch up, because the situation was better several years ago and the use of progressive housing models has shrunk.
Spencer: How can the average person make a difference in the life of someone with an intellectual disability?
Karla: Three things stand out.
1. One of the best things we can do is understand people. Understand how BC’s historically been for people with intellectual disabilities. People do educational journeys with anti-racism, and should do that for BC's treatment of persons with diverse abilities.
I want this history embedded in the curriculum and learning of BC, just as it’s happening out in other provinces.
One of the best things we can do is understand people. Understand how BC’s historically been for people with intellectual disabilities
2. Stop ‘othering’ people – stop separating yourself, and instead acknowledge that people are people. If you find yourself ‘othering’, take accountability for that and consider why you’re doing it.
3. Look at the realm of influence you’re in - ask who's there and who's not there, and ask why.
Spencer: How can people support Inclusion BC?
Karla: Get involved! We have multiple pathways for engagement.
A good way to start is signing up for our e-update on current news, campaigns, calls to action, opportunities, and so forth.
Also connect with us and invite Inclusion BC and our partners into your conversations on diversity and inclusion in schools and the workplace. We can all learn something from one another.
Learn more about Inclusion BC and show your support at: https://inclusionbc.org
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!