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Friday June 12, 2015

 

indexKeep Moving – Don’t Stop – 2015 Inclusion BC Conference

By: Tara Kimberley Torme

 

 

This year I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 Inclusion BC Conference with the theme of ‘’Keep Moving Don’t Stop’’ thanks to receiving the scholarship from Inclusion BC.

Running for three days from Wednesday May 27, 2015 (the preconference day) – Saturday May 30, 2015 various notables such as Shane Koyczan, Sean Forbes and Tamara Taggart were keynote speakers during the conference.

Their inspirational words and stories moved my heart and gave me a lot to think about.

The focus on artists and people with disabilities was one I really liked a lot.

People do not usually see people with disabilities as people with talents and abilities – they see them as people with disabilities first and foremost.

However, there are many talented people out there – with various disabilities – people who act, paint, draw, write, sing, do needlework, write poetry etc – and most of the time are not recognized for their abilities.

The issue lies in whether or not to disclose the disability to the public when selling the work or keeping it hidden – if it even matters at all to have the disability in order to sell to the public their creative talent.

Even when it comes to acting – the challenge also remains on whether or not to disclose it to the public – so they can decide whether or not to come to the performance – and if that even matters – in relation to their talent. It’s a huge issue and one that really needs to be resolved somehow.

On the actual opening day of the conference on Thursday May 28, 2015 the Musqueam band did a traditional welcome from the Coast Salish people/territory.

With their songs they share their history, song and dances. In their culture they are always there for one another – an important aspect of what families of people with disabilities should do – be there for one another – no matter what. One saying I particularly liked was when they said there is not a day in our lives we don’t have a little battle to get through.

Everybody has battles – big and little – it’s how we deal with them that really matter – not the battle itself.

 

Faith Bodnar – the executive director for Inclusion BC was also one of the keynote speakers for the Opening Day of the Inclusion BC Conference.

She talked about how everybody belongs here – both those with disabilities and those without disabilities.

The disability movement literally began at a kitchen table nearly 60 years ago – parents and individuals with disabilities – seeking for equality and inclusion in the community – access to schools – and out of the institutions.

During that time period those with disabilities were put into institutions and locked away from society – not even given the right to an education – or even to be part of the community.

With the movement parents fought hard to end institutionalization of people with disabilities and to include them in the education system.

 

Shane Koyczan was the opening keynote performance.

His poetry and his speech was amazing. He spoke about how school was good at fitting people in particular shapes – i.e. circle into a circle and square into a square – but not fitting squares into circles.

I identify with this, because I was a circle fitting into a square – I never fit into the other circles – I was always the odd person – not fitting in a particular place but always somewhere in between. Shane also talked about how we are taught that being different is bad – which is true – with how commercials have people wanting to try creams for their wrinkles and botox in order to be young and implants in order to fit in – so we can be beautiful and creams to get rid of or improve the appearance of scars.

This always gives me the impression that we are to be ashamed of our scars – that they are ugly when in fact they are not – they are part of who we are and part of our past and our history.

The world loves to attach itself to standards – especially beauty standards.

His question that he asks is how can we be beautiful in a world delved deeper than our skin? We’ve been basing beauty on our eyes instead of what’s beneath our skin.

We are not a Mr. and Mrs. Potato head where we can change out our parts in order to fix what we don’t like. Pretty is a lie, says Shane Koyczan – you are still you – appearance forgives nothing.

It is the fear that drives us apart – for what one doesn’t understand fears. You need to be fearless of who you want to be – regardless of the other standards that people set for society.

I attended a workshop titled ‘’Finding Our Way In The Art Communities’’ with presenters Cindy Mateush, Don House and Caroline Dagg. The workshop talked about how art is used as self expression and how art builds relationships and inclusion for those with disabilities.

Art does matter and those with disabilities have the right to express themselves creatively just like those who don’t have any type of disability.

They talked about using theatre as a way to provide social interaction in a stimulating and a challenging manner.

Theatre does promote trust and team work and is never ever the same old thing.

It also fosters pride in accomplishment – something for those with disabilities can say they’ve actually done for themselves.

Theatre is a transformative change – it is the process of finding a unique identity. Just like any craft you have to do the work.

They also talked about traditional art – i.e. painting – a medium many people are familiar with.

It is important to foster a culture of creativity and innovation, to support art initiatives and projects and to support art based partnerships and supports. Without art, there wouldn’t be a way for all people – regardless of disability or not – to express themselves. It is a healthy way of doing that.

The quote I was left with was by Michelangelo: ‘’Our gift lies in the place where our values, passions, and strengths meet. Discovering that place is the first step toward sculpting the business masterpiece.’’

This is relevant because he was talking how we each have a hidden talent to be revealed – but in his case he was talking about how each stone had a sculpture inside waiting to come out.

Each person with a disability have hidden talents that nobody knows about because they are too busy focused on the disability – instead of the ability – they don’t see past the barrier of what’s there – so they miss the opportunity to see the real person underneath.

The next keynote speaker I heard was with Barbara Collier. She talked about how accessibility includes communication.

Her focus happened to be on those who have a speech and language disability not caused by a hearing loss.

Those who are already being serviced adequately are those with mobility issues, with deaf or hearing loss, those who are blind or visual impairment and those with learning disabilities. Those who have speech and language disabilities are still not being well serviced in the communities.

That number is about half a million Canadians – which is quite a significant part of our population here in Canada.

This would include those with congenital, acquired and degenerative disabilities and would further include those with cerebral palsy, autism and autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, MS, ALS, stroke, acquired brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and many other conditions.

There are no clear guidelines for speech and language disabilities).

When there is no communication access in the community this leads to discrimination, abuse and crimes, loss of control, consent to treatment, compromised services, inaccessible services and loss of autonomy.

She also talked about what communication access means. Communication access means understanding what others say, having our messages understood by others, using different ways to communicate, being able to communicate over the phone or to use an alternative to the phone, being able to communicate at meetings and at public events, being able to use, read and understand text and e-communications, being able to complete forms, take notes and sign documents.

Everybody has communication access rights and she stressed that there are online resources and tool kits for those with speech and language disabilities to help them in their daily lives.

Dan Habib was the keynote speaker for the morning part of the conference on Friday May 29, 2015.

A filmmaker at the University of New Hampshire and 6times New Hampshire photographer of the year, he talked about his son with a disability and inclusiveness in the community. Included children have better communication skills, a higher academic achievement, a wider social network and fewer behaviour problems than those who are not included.

The real danger is assuming that people with disabilities will not learn – this is a form of segregation. Unfortunately, this still happens in present day. 56% of children with intellectual disabilities will spend their entire day segregated in a special education classroom instead of being with abled peers their own age.

The question is – so why do we continue to segregate children with disabilities. It has been proven that when there are inclusive classrooms it equates to improved grades – for both able bodied people and for those with various disabilities. Disability is a part of diversity and we all belong.

The next keynote speaker I heard was Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a representative for child and youth at RCYBC. Far too often do parents fight for labels for their children.

It takes 4 years to get an assessment which have stigmas and seclusion attached to them. Far too many children are not in the classroom because we don’t have the resources to support them in the classroom. We need to have clear standards for rights and for disabilities.

We need a PWD act for our children. It is a fundamental right to learn and when you don’t have those resources, then that right is taken away from those with disabilities who do have the right to learn.

The next keynote speaker I listened to was Sean Forbes an amazing Deaf hip-hop artist based in Detroit, Michigan. His music and performance and words inspired me so much I went to his workshop instead of the one I originally signed up for and I certainly was glad of my change in choice.

He talked about how only you (as a person) can make it happen – and I take it to mean for both those with and without disabilities. If you truly want it – you can do it – meaning – if you have a particular dream or goal – then go for it – regardless of the obstacles – regardless of whether you have a disability or not.

Don’t let anything hold you back, he said, and that’s one saying I keep near and dear to my heart as I strive for my own personal goals in my own life.

His music he performed was extremely powerful, moving and catchy and when I came home I went on YouTube to listen to his music.
The other keynote speakers included a keynote panel on the power of Language. They talked how accessibility is providing people of all abilities to lead a full and inclusive life.

At the moment, we don’t have this fully, but hopefully in the future we will be able to have this.

The question asked was why still a minority of people with intellectual disabilities and why is employment for us at a 25% rate. The truth is – you need to make impossible choices. If you get off of welfare then you lose all of your benefits – a sad, but true fact as I’ve seen people I’ve known with disabilities faced with this fate.

We need to address the poverty amongst those with disabilities and ensure they live good lives. Too many times we are faced with hard choices – we cannot go to expensive places, because our employment income is way too low – so we become segregated from the rest because we cannot be included in the finer, more expensive things in life.

And when we do indulge – we get punished by being cut off of PWD – and PWD doesn’t even recognize that we haven’t lost our disability – we still have it and we still need the money.

We have to demonstrate solidarity to those who face barriers in life.
Other words and thoughts I carried from the conference include label jars…not people. Labels are disabling – yet people still use them to define people.

Language can either unite or divide people. It can serve to clarify or to disguise propaganda. Language creates labels that devalue and don’t devalue people.

You need to be mindful of words. Language creates insight and enlightenment. It can influence how we see and solve problems.

We (people with disabilities) can work, marry and can own our own home. It is hurtful when people assume we are not like other people. Language can provoke or heal people.

It has the power to notice distinctiveness of people. It produces unity amongst people and it either creates opponents or allies. You need to own your label and view it as something positive.

Be disabled and proud. Call me Aspie Extraordinaire – I’ll be proud to be called that any day of the week.

I don’t have special needs, I have human needs – a saying I took away from this conference. We do need labels, says another speaker – we should proudly label ourselves as disabled.
This conference embodies what we are all about – that everybody belongs. We are trying to make the rest of the world like this conference – where everybody belongs.

We have the right to be educated and to go to school. over 60 years ago we were supposed to hide and lock our child away. Thank goodness we don’t do that any longer – now we see more individuals with various disabilities in the community – a far cry to what it was back in the 1940’s. BC is the first to cover intellectual disabilities for the charter of rights.

No woman with a disability can have the right of children taken away from them. Our RDSP model is being reciprocated all over the world. 75% of people in Canada have an intellectual disability and they still can’t get a job and still live in poverty. In China if you have a disability you get killed or locked away.

Everybody belongs – all over the world – all people – we all belong. We know we can make a difference. We need to stand up, be strong.

We teach people from a small child onward to be afraid of people with disabilities – ‘’it’s rude to ask’’ say the parents to the child. When in fact it’s not rude – it’s ok to ask. ‘’Everybody feels disfigured’’. We as people with disabilities visible or invisible are leaders.