B.C. People First has had many advisors over the 40+ years of it’s lifetime, and they’ve had a significant role in developing both regional groups, the provincial group and in supporting members to represent the province with the National Caucus and internationally.   Advisors have given many hours and, speaking as one, their lives and their perceptions have been broadened and enriched.   As Arnold used to say, “You’ll never be sorry you took this job, Aaron,” and I never was.    The board of B.C. People First is currently looking for a number of advisors, and can also point you to groups in your area which will be glad of your support.

Please email bcpfcoordinator@gmail.com for information on becoming an advisor.

The changing role of the People First advisor

by Charles Curtis

People First is a self-advocacy organization operated by and for people with mental (intellectual) handicaps, with help from nonvoting non-disabled advisors. People First has been in existence for about a decade. Curtis describes “good” advisors as being:

  • interested in the welfare of mentally handicapped people;
  • respectful of individual differences;
  • understanding of special needs;
  • personable and open-minded;
  • available when needed; and
  • committed to self-advocacy.

Their jobs, at the local level, are to help members develop group-process, decision making, and self-advocacy skills; train officers for their positions; facilitate liaison with other community groups; and help with public relations. People First philosophy envisages a time when local chapters can function without full-time advisors, using only temporary help as needed.

Advisors are often drawn from agency/institution staffs, especially for new chapters, and this causes concern. Professionals who hold traditional views of intellectually limited consumers may be overly active in their diligence to protect and their reluctance to allow risk taking. This can hinder individual member and chapter development. Also, conflicts of interest arise when advisors must help People First groups pursue grievances against their employers. Such conflicts can only be avoided when members are able to handle such grievance actions without advisors’ help.

According to Curtis, only where the advisors meet the criteria listed and will provide leadership without taking control, do chapters grow in membership and competence.

Curtis, Charles. “The Changing Role of the People First Advisor”, American Rehabilitation, April 1984.

Rehab Brief. Vol. VIII, No. 5 May 1985. National Institute of Handicapped Research. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, Department of Education, Washington, D.C. 20202.

with thanks, from Independent Living Institute