May 2012


There were a few interesting things about putting on this workshop.   At a conference a couple of years ago there was a request from some members who wanted more information about this topic so that they could feel more welcomed.   Paige, Nikita and Colin volunteered to be on the presenting panel, and when we contacted Robin from QMUNITY (Vancouver’s Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender community centre) he was excited to be asked to be part of it.

Robin did a great job of giving an overview of what the issues are around gender and sexuality and what QMUNITY offers and how it is their intention to be welcoming of all kinds of people.   Colin is a volunteer at QMUNITY so was able to talk about that as well.   Nikita, Paige and Colin talked about their lives as gay, lesbian, bi and transgender self advocates and told great stories.   They led a discussion with the room about what it was like to be “doubly excluded” or in the case of transgender self advocates “triply excluded.”    Paige then brainstormed with people in the room and on the panel about how self advocates can be more welcoming of diversity in their groups, in their communities, workplaces and social lives.   Nikita moderated the group and made sure that everyone was included and had a chance to talk.  People asked great questions.  Gordon Fletcher and Aaron helped the panel organize their thoughts to put this talk together and made the graphic chart (instead of using a powerpoint) but they presented and facilitated without any support.

The evaluations and feedback from participants were amazing – people said it was a great workshop, the best they’d been to, really opened their eyes, they felt so much more comfortable, they learned a lot etc.   A couple of people at the debrief said it was the highlight of the conference for them.

This workshop fit into the theme of Gordon’s keynote which was about welcoming diversity – who isn’t here?  And how might we welcome young people, people of color, LGBT people, alternative lifestyle people.  Gordon and Aaron role played about how when people feel unheard and unrecognized they stop trying to be heard and just leave.

Next year the panelists intend on applying to present at the BCACL Conference for a longer, more interactive workshop.

The panel for this plenary presentation was Dave Sherritt, Mike Gauthier, Sherry Shortman and David Johnson (moderator).   They were joined for part of the presentation by Raymond, assisted by Kaeti, from New Zealand by Skype.  This is a slideshow of the presentation, and below that is a downloadable PDF file as a handout.

WeArePeopleFirstBurnaby

Here are the notes from the supported employment workshop at our conference.   Gordon Fletcher facilitated and Aaron took notes and did some quick graphics for people.   We wondered “what the heck is happening with real work for real pay around the province?”    The themes that came up were:

Employment is important because it allows us to afford to do things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

But there are many other reasons it is important, like the friends we make at work and the way in which they watch over us and make sure we’re safe.   It is also a lot of fun.   It is perhaps the most fun thing in some people’s lives.

Being employed makes a lot of other good things happen in someone’s life: a sense of purpose, things to do that are interesting, an increased circle of people who care, money to be involved with others, the means to “give” back to the community because we can afford to take others out for coffee AND because we can use the skills we learn at work to help others.

People had some interesting jobs that worked for them as individuals because they got to be part of things that they loved.   One person who loved horses worked at a stable.   One person who loved flowers worked as a gardener.   He also worked as a beekeeper.  Two people who loved being part of their neighbourhoods had jobs in Supermarkets that were really involved in their communities.   Some employers, like Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria (and a few other places), were really commended for being so inclusive and making sure the their stores were places where all kinds of people were valued.   In one case someone who worked in a mall was laid off and the other mall employers and employees got together to find him a new job because they wanted him to be part of their workplace.   Once people found a job they liked they worked at it for a long time – 21 years, 17 years, 14 years, etc.

People thought it was important that other people with disabilities have a chance to get work too.   They thought this was challenging but other self advocates, families and friends could help.   Some of the people had got jobs on their own and some had got jobs through friends and family members.   Some had been in job development programs and had worked with job coaches, and thought that was a great experience and they’d learned lots, but none of the people in the group had got a job through their job coach or employment program.

A big issue for people was the maximum amount of $500 that can be earned before money is deducted from GAIN cheques.   This was an issue for a few reasons.   First, because often people are living in poverty and while $500 helps a lot it still means they just scrape by.  Second, because while what they like about work is that they are part of teams where everyone has fun together and works hard, when their co-workers get bonuses or work more hours they will talk about what they are going to do: they might save their money; they might buy something special; they might go on a holiday.   Employees with disabilities don’t get to be part of these conversations and feel excluded from these conversations and embarrassed.   Most of the participants would rather work extra hours like their colleagues at work than say “no” partly because they like their jobs but also because they don’t want to be set apart from everyone else.   This means they work for free, unless they can work enough so that they can get off GAIN.

Some people with disabilities have retired and are on pensions and enjoy their retirement.   Some people would like to be off their benefits and just working but are afraid of losing their health benefits and not getting them back if something happens with their job.

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Some photos from our 2012 conference and AGM “Nothing About Us Without Us!”

Our weekend together in Burnaby B.C. started with a world cafe asking the question “What About Us and….?”  and people identified ten topics of interest.   One of these changed after the first round of conversations to “What About Us and Institutions” because people felt this was an important part of People First’s history AND it was also important to recognize that there are still influences in services and supports that want to “institutionalize” people who have been labelled by placing them in larger group homes, or homes where rules are more important than people, or situations where they don’t get to participate in “regular” community life (like working, going to church, knowing neighbours, having things to feel proud of).    The world cafe was facilitated by Gladys and Ryan from Esatta Cooperative, self advocate facilitators, and graphic facilitation was by provincial advisor Aaron (www.imagineacircle.com).   Ryan and Gladys were great and people loved to see their ideas drawn on the chart.   Friday ended with a well attended and fun pub night with a silent auction and 50/50 draw.

Saturday began with a keynote about “Unity and Leadership in the People First movement” by Gordon Fletcher and then everyone broke into groups for nine great break-out session.   Sunday began with a brief presentation about how people who have been labelled have joined forces in groups all over the world, and how those groups join together to form provincial or state groups, and then national groups and international groups.   We were joined by Kaeti and Raymond from People First New Zealand (thanks for getting up at 4 a.m. to talk to us!) and everyone had a great conversation asking them about what things were like there, and telling them about what we do here.   We hoped for some other groups to be able to Skype in as well but for various reasons they didn’t make it.  Everyone wants to do more of this!

Afterwards, we looked at proposed changes from the constitution committee and there were board reports, then new members were appointed to the board of directors, and Lorrie thanked the membership and called a short meeting of the new board.   An announcement will come out shortly about the new board.

Special thanks to our guests, our advisors, all the volunteers who assisted us in so many ways, the Station Square Pub for supporting our fund-raising and the Metrotown Hilton for their support.  Photos by Jo-Anne Gauthier and Aaron Johannes.