The Victoria Disability Resource Centre is a pillar of support for Victoria residents with disabilities (Photo: Victoria Disability Resource Centre)
By Spencer van Vloten
September 24th, 2021
The Victoria Disability Resource Centre (VDRC) has been a leader in making BC's provincial capital a more accessible and inclusive city.
We talked with executive director Wendy Cox about VDRC's work, the new perspective they're promoting on disability, and what she's proudest of.
What does Victoria Disability Resource Centre (VDRC) do?
Wendy: At least 51 percent of our staff and board have to identify as people living with disabilities, and we work directly with persons with disabilities and their networks to help them become their own advocates.
Part of this is providing referrals and information, which includes helping with PWD and CPP-D forms and providing guidance on how to apply. We get about 7500 inquiries for information a year.
We also offer peer support and community outreach. There's talk about isolation and loneliness because of the pandemic, but much of this already existed for people with disabilities.
There's talk about isolation and loneliness because of the pandemic, but much of this already existed for people with disabilities
And we recruit and train volunteers, helping them gain skills they can use in other volunteer positions or jobs. Participants learn a lot about their own strengths, weaknesses, and interests, which they can all take with them no matter what their goals are.
Your website says you promote a new perspective on disability – what’s that perspective?
Wendy: It's to show the community that persons with disabilities are people first, like everyone else, but that they face different barriers than most people do.
Wendy (left) is a wheelchair user. She took reporter Nicole Crescenzi out in a wheelchair to illustrate daily accessibility challenges (Photo: Nina Grossman)
Regardless of disability, people can gain skills, do a good job at whatever they choose to pursue, and be part of the community. That’s our focus – not advocating or doing things for people, but doing it with them so they develop the skills to succeed independently.
Where do you rate Victoria when it comes to inclusion of persons with disabilities?
Wendy: It’s all over the board, a mixed bag really. For the most part people are polite, but a lot of the time it comes off as condescending. The employment field’s also really poor for people with disabilities, and many people are stressed about whether or not to disclose their disability.
For the most part people are polite, but a lot of the time it comes off as condescending
We have a program called LEAD - Lived Experience Around Disability – which aims to build inclusion through having persons with disabilities go into schools and give hands-on presentations about disability. It's been a real hit.
In Victoria what are the biggest areas to be improved for people with disabilities?
Wendy: I'd say housing, benefits, and employment opportunities - including the training and schooling that are part of that.
What has the resource centre accomplished that you're proudest of?
Wendy: One thing I really love seeing is people’s confidence rise when they volunteer, as their skills increase and as they gain employment. It’s such an amazing thing to happen. It’s not so much watching them develop new skills as much as it’s seeing people learn about themselves.
Wendy with Gina - who came to VDRC and ended up being hired in their LEAD program, where she gives presentations on living with partial vision (Photo: Neil Squire Society)
We also sometimes have people come in who are very angry, having been passed around by system without getting support they need. But then we work with them, and they thank us and feel better for having visited. It’s a good feeling to help people like that.
What goals does VDRC have for the next few years?
Wendy: We want to create more programs that serve more people. Especially for employment, because it’s so individual and based on context.
We also want to continue developing and utilizing disability awareness training within the community, because changing attitudes will improve outcomes for persons with disabilities, and making the public more comfortable and confident in interacting with persons who have a disability is a key part of that.
Learn more about the Victoria Disability Resource Centre