Michael McLellan's passion is self-advocacy (photo: Inclusion BC)
By Spencer van Vloten
August 27th, 2021
Co-founder of the Self Advocate Leadership Network (SALN), Nanaimo’s Michael McLellan is one of BC’s most prominent self-advocates, spending decades working to ensure that British Columbians with intellectual disabilities are empowered as community leaders.
We talked with Michael about his passion for advocacy, his top priority for the 2021 election, and an exciting new project he’s working on with Inclusion BC.
How did you get started in self-advocacy?
Michael: My introduction to self-advocacy was the 2000 Inclusion BC conference, which means I’ve been involved in the self-advocacy movement for over 20 years.
Getting as far as I have, onto the Inclusion BC board and People First of Canada board, doing small jobs and sometimes big jobs, I love the work; it’s in my blood and I’ll never stop.
Self-advocacy is everything for me and I’ve come along in a lot of ways, learning so many things from so many people.
What do you consider the highlights of your 20+ years in self-advocacy?
Michael: One of the big ones was co-founding SALN. We formed just before the pandemic started, and when it did start it forced us to work fast.
We've worked on many issues during the pandemic, but perhaps our biggest achievement was helping to get the essential visitor policy changed, so that families could once again see their loved ones who were in care facilities and hospitals.
SALN’s work has spread internationally, and we’ve given presentations to people from as far as Australia and Korea.
Michael's made a big impact in his 20+ years of self-advocacy. Here he is accepting an award from Anita Holland for his role in creating welcoming communities (photo: Community Living BC)
What issues do you want the 2021 election candidates to address?
Michael: Poverty’s the big thing.
People with disabilities need a minimum of $2200 a month, as has been recommended by Inclusion Canada. I support this and we want it without any claw backs if you work or get married. Claw backs are always a big issue for self-advocates.
Poverty's the big thing. People with disabilities need a minimum of $2200 a month
Affordable, accessible, and inclusive housing must be addressed too. Housing is so expensive and people with disabilities have so little to spend on it, then you add in that many places aren’t even accessible, and it’s next to impossible to find something.
Accessible and affordable and inclusive childcare is another concern.
What thoughts do you have on the election being called?
Michael: Many people are asking ‘why now?', and that’s not just people with disabilities; ‘why now?’ is coming from almost all the people I know.
We’re still in the middle of a pandemic that we’re trying to control, so why are they calling it now? That’s my question.
That said, I’ve always believed that if you don’t vote you can’t complain, so I’ll still be voting.
What barriers to voting do self-advocates experience?
Michael: One barrier would automatically be – do you understand the issues and how to vote, and is your support team going to explain it to you. Having supporters to encourage and help you along the way is very important.
Another barrier, for people with vision limitations like me, is that it can be hard to vote in-person. The Braille ballots aren't of a high quality and often do no good.
Braille ballots aren't of a high quality and often do no good
Having voting by mail as an option is really important too for accessibility, especially when there's a pandemic.
Aside from the election, what issues are SALN focused on now?
Michael: Right now, the main focus is our Community Living BC grant. We hold events to help self-advocates learn and stay connected to each other during the pandemic, and we continue to make news sheets to keep self-advocates informed about issues in the community.
Helping others learn and build their skills has been a focus for Michael. Here he is giving a presentation with fellow self-advocate David Johnston (photo: Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo)
Another big issue for us is affordable, accessible, and inclusive housing. Recently the Surrey city council rejected Harmony, which is part of UNITI’s affordable, accessible, and inclusive housing initiative.
The council voted 5-3 against it, but none of the 5 who voted against gave their reasons, and we want to know why not.
How are self-advocates reacting to recently announced pandemic restrictions?
Michael: Some people have taken it hard, some have taken in stride.
Let me say, if you don’t have your shot, please go get your shot; if you want to do the stuff you enjoy in the community, get your shot. You’ll be able to do that. You’ll be able to go to events, conferences, sports games.
Also, hold your head up, we’ll get through this, it may feel like a step backward, but it’s something we need to stay safe.
What’s your advice for self-advocates who want to get involved with helping their communities like you have?
Michael: The question is 'do you have a self-advocate group in your community?'
That group can take a take local focus, a provincial focus, or a national focus, but the first thing you need is to see if you actually have a group of self-advocates and supporters in your area.
If you do, reach out and find out how to participate with them.
What’s next for you Michael?
Michael: Chairing SALN will continue to be a big thing for me.
I’m also on the board of Inclusion BC, and we just had a meeting to start planning the first ever Self-Advocate Leadership Institute in BC, led by self advocates, for self advocates, with the support of Inclusion BC.
It will help self-advocates develop their leadership skills and confidence.
We just had a meeting to start planning the first ever Self-Advocate Leadership Institute in BC
I’m co-chair of a learning community of person-centered practices as well. Along with SALN’s Kara Anderson, I teach workshops on people planning together, and it’s another way for self-advocates to help other self-advocates build their skills to advocate.
Most of all, I’ll continue to pursue my passion, and that’s advocacy.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to email@example.com!