Self-advocates and allies from across Canada gathered in Surrey for the 2022 Inclusion BC Conference: Everybody Belongs!
June 2nd, 2022
Upon entering the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel, one was immediately struck by the atmosphere.
Old friends reunited; new friends being introduced.
There were smiles, laughs, hugs, and high fives all around - and the conference hadn’t even started!
It was this spirit of togetherness that was in the air throughout the 2022 Inclusion BC Conference: Everybody Belongs!
Co-hosted by Inclusion BC, Uniti, and the Self Advocates of Semiahmoo, Everybody Belongs! united self-advocates and allies from across Canada for three days of collaborative learning, discussion, and celebration.
Here’s how it went down!
DAY ONE: THURSDAY
Chief Harley Chappell of the Semiahmoo First Nation
To get the event underway, conference-goers headed to the Guildford Ballroom for the first keynote speaker.
Conference host Alexander Magnussen welcomed the audience, while Chief Harley Chappell of the Semiahmoo First Nation performed a traditional Indigenous song.
From there the stage was handed over to author and leadership expert Margaret Wheatley.
Margaret Wheatley: A Bundle Of Belonging
“There’s no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about”
Margaret started by proclaiming that everywhere, humans have the desire to earn, learn, and belong.
As the Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “we exist in a bundle of belonging.”
Today too many people focus on what makes them different, she continued, but we always have the authority and ability to stand up for a cause and to defend what’s important to us.
Margaret explained that self-advocates are raising the banner of inclusion and are doing it as a community – in her words, self-advocates are “warriors for the human spirit.”
Margaret closed by getting the audience to focus on three qualities that will help them persevere and stay on path in advancing inclusion: relationships, reflection, and self-care.
Pay attention to what’s happening in your relationships, look at your values and actions, and take care of yourself so you can care for others.
That’s how we move forward together.
Breakout Sessions: Show You Can Succeed
Michelle Goos and daughter Cheyenne Furlong Goos on the left, along with Joanne and Mike Gauthier and their daughter Christal Hotte
Excited to apply Margaret’s teachings, the audience headed to the conference’s first breakout sessions.
The sessions covered a range of topics, such as inclusive education, digital literacy, disability law, and community asset mapping.
One of the sessions – My Story Being a Person with a Disability and a Parent – also touched on being a parent with a disability.
Self-advocates Joanne and Mike Gauthier shared their journey of parenthood, while their daughter Christal Hotte shared her story about growing up with Joanne and Mike, as well as welcoming a child of her own to the family.
Mother and daughter self-advocates Michelle Goos and Cheyenne Furlong Goos also spoke, with Michelle offering these powerful words:
The more you stand up for yourself and show you can succeed as parent, the stronger you’ll make your children
After the breakout sessions, conference-goers mingled at the welcoming reception, checked out the vendors exhibition, and closed day one with a screening of Peanut Butter Falcon, a movie about an aspiring pro wrestler with Down syndrome.
The conference had already been filled with fun, friendship, and learning - and it was just getting started.
DAY TWO: FRIDAY
After getting a night of well-deserved rest, participants returned to the Guildford Ballroom the next morning, where day two began with the conference’s second keynote speaker Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario.
Sarah Jama: Stronger Together
“You don’t need a seat at a specific table; you need to understand where people are coming from and how all our issues connect”
The daughter of Somali immigrants, Sarah Jama and her family heard it all before: that she’d become a vegetable and would never attend university.
But she believed in herself, pursued her education, and while in university began reassessing the nature of power, as well as the limitations of traditional forms of advocacy.
Sarah concluded that disability organizations are often focused on the wrong things. They’re stuck discussing access to a table, but what’s needed, she explained, is understanding the foundation of how power works and how people’s issues are connected.
To achieve disability justice, Sarah urged the audience not to separate themselves from one another based on what type of disability they have, but to unite to address the underlying cause of their problems – most notably a structural lack of power.
Sara also proclaimed that young disabled people need to stop being told to ask for help when they need a barrier removed, because they have the ability to tear down these barriers themselves.
Sara’s powerful speech drew a standing ovation and even some tears, as many audience members related to her experiences fighting for belonging.
Breakout Sessions: Speak About What Matters To You
The Self Advocates of Semiahmoo helped participants improve their speaking skills (Photo: Self Advocates of Semiahmoo)
Fired up from Sarah’s speech, participants headed to day two’s breakout sessions eager to continue learning about advocacy and inclusion.
The afternoon’s sessions covered mental health, employment, anti-ableist education, photography, and more.
One of the highlights was Speak, Share, Laugh, in which the Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo shared the story of their SPEAKtacular ToastMasters club, and took the crowd through skill and confidence building speaking exercises.
The toastmasters emphasized that what's important isn't just speaking up, but speaking about what's important to each of us.
As Manjeet Ghangass, one of the session's leaders stated, “I speak up on the issues that matter to me; not the issues that you think matter to me."
Panel: Why Aren't People With Disabilities Leading Their Movement?
“We must be the leaders moving things forward and not just in the background”
Left to right: Jillian Glennie, Kara Anderson, Nolda Ware, Michael McLellan, and Doug Tennant
For keynote three, moderators Jillian Glennie and Kara Anderson were joined by Self Advocate Leadership Network co-founder Michael McLellan, as well as Uniti's Nolda Ware and Doug Tennant to discuss leadership in the disability movement.
As Michael explained, people with disabilities still don’t have the final say in many of the decisions impacting their lives, but they must start becoming the ones moving things forward.
Nolda agreed: people with disabilities are the experts on living with a disability, so who better to lead the movement?
The problem, as Doug stated, is that the current model prevents society from thinking about people with disabilities as people who can be leaders.
Michael called for a future where people with disabilities are leaders in politics and government, making high-level decisions instead of having them made for them, and Doug closed the discussion with a fitting quote:
Screw having a seat at the table; people with disabilities need to be the hosts of the table
Once the discussion ended, it was time to party!
While some conference-goers headed out for the evening to explore Surrey, others took to the Guildford Ballroom for a tropical themed dinner and dance, showing off their smooth moves.
Day two came to a close and the conference neared its end, but a world premier still awaited.
DAY THREE: SATURDAY
The final day of the conference was upon us, and participants were still full of enthusiasm!
Two breakout sessions started the day, and one of the highlights was a sneak peek at the 2023 Self Advocate Leadership Institute, in which BC’s most experienced self-advocates will help others develop their skills to become community leaders and champions of inclusion.
And it would be the story of one particular community leader, Lauren Simpson, that would bring the conference to its conclusion.
Last year, the city of Surrey rejected a bid for Harmony - an inclusive, affordable housing development that would have provided 91 units for people with disabilities and housing barriers.
One of those people was self-advocate and community ambassador Lauren Simpson, and the world premier of Lauren's Story captured the impact that Surrey's rejection of Harmony had on her and others desperately in need of inclusive, affordable housing.
Watch Lauren's Story
As Doug Tennant, CEO of Uniti put it, "inclusion isn’t a partisan issue. Having a home you can call your own isn’t a partisan issue."
And yet, as the film detailed, Mayor Doug McCallum, along with councillors Laurie Guerra, Doug Elford, Mandeep Nagra, and Allison Patton rejected Harmony, despite record-setting public support and community need.
While the decision drew tears and befuddlement, it was only a temporary setback. Mayors and city councillors come and go, but community champions like Lauren are here to stay.
As she put it, "I am really excited for the future, because I know that one day Harmony will be built.”
The rejection of Harmony's a reminder of why speaking up for inclusion is so important, and after a week of learning and making new connections, conference-goers are now more equipped than ever to return home and advocate for communities where everybody belongs.
ON TO 2023!
The 2nd World Supported Employment Conference is coming to Vancouver
While the Inclusion BC conference has ended for another year, excitement's already building for the 2023 World Supported Employment Conference, to be held in Vancouver from June 6th-8th.
Registration will open in July, and we hope to see you in Vancouver!
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!