Paul Gauthier is a champion in many ways
By Spencer van Vloten
Although a gold medal Paralympian, Paul Gauthier's community achievements are just as impressive. Developer of Choice in Supports for Independent Living (CSIL), and executive director of the Individualized Funding Resource Centre, Paul has dedicated his life to enabling the independence and full community participation of people with disabilities.
The Origins of Independence
In 1994, New Westminster's Paul Gauthier, then in his early 20s, was part of a committee reviewing BC's home support system. When evaluating how to improve the province's existing programs, Paul saw the need for a model which provided more independence to people receiving care.
Central to his outlook on home support was the belief that no one knows a person's care needs better than the person themselves.
"One of things I was able to bring forward, was that if you really want to improve home support, money needed to go directly to the people receiving support, so they had the power over their care."
Paul brought forward his vision of an individualized care program that empowered the people using it. With government approval, he worked years to develop this program and bring his vision to life, and the result was Choice in Supports for Independent Living, also known as CSIL.
CSIL users are first assessed for home support, but once they've been assessed they can select the CSIL option. Instead of living in a group home, or having funds go to an agency which decides how to use them, the funding goes directly to the person receiving care.
This puts the control in their hands to hire their own team of employees, control hours, make payments, set schedules, and live how they want to.
Paul during a public information session
While the government originally expected around 10 people to sign onto the CSIL program Paul developed, he was determined to make a bigger impact.
He set off on a 30-city tour across BC, organized info sessions, and met 1-on-1 with disabled persons and case managers to teach them about the program.
The results paid off.
"In the first year, we had over 50 users, and that grew to over 1300."
A Centre For Support
Despite the CSIL program's initial success, Paul wanted to see more people take advantage of it and the independence it offered. Many people considering the program were apprehensive about the responsibility of managing one's own care and the resources involved.
"It can seem a bit intimidating at first."
"You basically become a small business owner, and not everyone has a background in that
sort of thing."
But Paul was so passionate about helping persons with disabilities live independently, that he started an organization with the mission to support them in applying for and using the CSIL program.
The Individualized Funding Resource Centre supports disabled persons to live independently in their community, and provides resources and info on how to access the necessary funding.
"We help people develop a supportive lifestyle plan."
"This starts with assessing which physical supports they'll need in order to live on their own. Then how to present their case so they get an assessment to get on CSIL, as well as further guidance through application process."
"We also have peer-to-peer discussion groups, with over 400 members across the province, so that CSIL users can share their experiences, knowledge, and support with one another."
The Individualized Funding Resource Centre provides support to people using the CSIL program
For all the help the Individualized Funding Resource Centre offers, Paul says another type of support is needed to help CSIL reach as many people as possible.
"It needs to be promoted more. It needs to be on television, written about in papers, and people have to know that it exists, and that there is a place like our resource centre that helps people operate through it."
"It’s such a progressive program, one that BC should be proud of it. It gives people so much more choice, and every dollar's spent to best degree possible."
Perhaps more than any other story, Paul's gold medal journey helps illustrates his point.
It started one evening in a gymnasium.
"I tried powersoccer, and a friend saw my competitive spirit and recommended boccia."
Boccia, similar to bocce, is a sport in which competitors with disabilities aim to get their ball as close as possible to the target ball. The ball can be thrown, kicked, or rolled down a ramp.
Although Paul admits he wasn't a standout player in the beginning, he quickly improved and began to win competition after competition, taking him to the pinnacle of adaptive sports, the Paralympic games.
His first appearance was in the 1996 Atlanta games, and 4 years later he captured bronze at the Sydney Paralympics. Spurred on by that podium finish, his biggest sporting moment came in the 2004 Athens games, where he captured a gold medal to become Paralympic champion.
Paul competes in boccia, using a ramp and a head stick to propel the ball.
But the success was about more than sports.
"It was amazing to hear the national anthem, but even more amazing was how it opened political doors. Suddenly I could get appointment with any political leader, I was able to advance advocacy issues and promote CSIL, and it was incredible."
When the Paralympics came to Vancouver 6 years later, Paul was a torchbearer and again used the opportunity for advocacy. All of these accomplishments and opportunities were only possible, he says, due to CSIL.
"I wouldn’t have been able to compete if wasn't for CSIL. Because of CSIL, I was able to work around my training schedule and hire a caregiver with a sporting background who helped me train. On normal home support, I wouldn’t be able to do all this and travel the world."
Paul was a torch bearer for the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics, using the opportunity to advocate for accessibility
You Get What You Give
Fundamental to all of Paul's endeavors - athletics and advocacy - is that people have the most to give when they've been given the right support.
"If we invest in people they give back. Give people the proper supports, help them thrive, and you'll see that everyone has something they can contribute back."
"People with disabilities end up choosing things like M.A.I.D. (medical assistance in dying) because the supports aren’t in place, so they feel they're burdens to society. The system is making them feel like that, because if they don’t have supports, they can't do much."
For Paul, whose vision from over 25 years ago now takes the form of CSIL, there's another dream still to be realized.
"My dream is for a world where everyone can fully participate as much as they want. Where disability doesn't hold anyone back."
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to email@example.com!