What if we closed down all the local programs for a day, gathered self advocates in a room and got them to share stories of where they are welcomed, where they are encouraged to share their gifts and with whom?

 

Thanks to a grant from BC Ideas, self advocate Ted Decker’s suggestion came to fruition with the Inclusive Research Project to Map the Self-Advocate Community. We engaged in community mapping around strengths, contribution and appreciation for diversity.

 

“We want to talk about where we are depended on and where we would be missed,” said Decker. The project brought 150 self advocates together in three cities, Vancouver, Vernon and Victoria to talk about being welcomed and valued in these communities.

 

Decker, and the self advocate group he is part of, suggested that this would be great information to share with service providers so that they know there are other options, places where people with developmental disabilities feel welcomed and have opportunities to contribute. They might start thinking of where and how they and their staff might share their own gifts.

 

Given that some of this messaging comes directly out of school systems where parents are not made aware of the potential richness of the lives of people with disabilities, these events would also provide information to teachers, schools and parents.

 

Our work began with a small award from C.L.B.C.’s Safeguards Committee several years ago, as one of four projects looking at support networks. That project became part of the “Belonging to One Another: Building Personal Support Networks” booklet. We developed a curriculum we’ve now presented in about a hundred workshops. This led to working with focus groups on “Support Networks: A Plain Language Guide for Self-Advocates.”

 

The mapping process emerged from a world café, with lots of leadership opportunities. Two co-facilitators, one with and one without a disability, and a graphic facilitator led the events. At the end of the day an action plan was created to recognize the places an people on the map and to encourage their participation. We also opened up the room to the public to walk through our map of the lives of people in their communities who were developmentally disabled.

 

A second project, “Cheryl’s Star Raft Salons”, is a partnership with David Wetherow and Cheryl Fryfield, a new self advocate leader who brought great ideas to the table. It is exciting to work with Cheryl and David, one of the most significant elders in our movement, as we look at ways self-advocates can develop networks. This is a conversation that is oddly new, and brings a different lens to relationships that before, were only seen in one light.

 

It’s great to see how excited people were, from congregations, employers, co-volunteers and peers from high school who wanted to know how to stay in touch. Our website has had 45,000 hits and the two most popular posts are about how the ways we support people with disabilities are changing.

 

We’ve led workshops as far south as Nashville, as far east as New York State and as far north as Fort St. John and connected with other innovative projects in the U.S., other provinces, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. People are impressed by what is happening in B.C. We are a world leader in this movement.

 

All of this has grown out of that original small project. It is great to have so many conversations with so many people and wonder what we are generating, because we’ve learned not to be surprised at what a small seed might grow into.

 

It also challenges you to recognize how other people see and experience the same community. Learning how to ask what communities have to offer begins a process of building and developing. It brings knowledge, skills, and capacities out into the open, where they can work together to everyone¹s benefit. As the web of assets grows, so does the potential for the community.

 

With contributions from: Barb Goode, Shelley Nessman, Cheryl Fryfield, Maggie Vilvang, Aaron Johannes and www.101friends.ca