Jo-Anne Gauthier: The People's President

Jo-Anne Gauthier is always ready to advocate (photo: Jo-Anne Gauthier)

By Spencer van Vloten

BC Disability

August 31st, 2021

President of BC People First and member of the Self-Advocate Leadership Network, Jo-Anne Gauthier is a fearless speaker and leader in BC's self-advocacy movement.

We talked with Jo-Anne about why she's driven to make a difference, her advice for beginners in self-advocacy, and the ambitious plans she has for the future.

How did you get started in self-advocacy?

Jo-Anne: It happened around 25 years ago. I was living in Cranbrook, and a friend of mine was on the Inclusion BC board and encouraged me to get involved.

I joined a self-advocacy group in Cranbrook, then with my husband Mike I became a member of BC People First, and together we worked to make Cranbrook a more welcoming place for persons with diverse abilities.

We successfully advocated to have the city install mobility ramps, we helped get more wheelchair lifts, we got the city to fix sidewalks, and also to install more automatic doors.

It wasn't just about accessibility though. Helping people in general was our goal, and one of the other things we did was cook hundreds of meals for people living in shelters.

The ball kept rolling and I've been able to participate in many different ways over the years.

What motivates you to be so busy as a leader in the self-advocacy movement?

Jo-Anne: Because I've been there, I know how others feel when they face exclusion, and I’ve always been a person who wants to help. There’s always someone who's worse off than me.

I’ve always had that passion to do whatever I could do to help. Maybe I can't fix the whole world, but I can help someone in some way, and that motivates me to keep going.

What tips would you give to people starting in self-advocacy?

Jo-Anne: Talk to as many people as you can. Go to the city hall, meet the mayor, ask the people you meet what they're doing to include people with diverse abilities.

Join a self-advocacy group like BC People First, and surround yourself with people who support your dreams and aren't going to make you set those aside.

Speaking is one of Jo-Anne's passions, and she's eager to return to it following the pandemic (photos: Jo-Anne Gauthier; Spencer van Vloten)

To all self-advocates, remember that even when things seem hard, keep on fighting, keep on standing up for yourself and for others. It's like my fav