Words Matter

Philosophy statement 4

At our May 2013 meeting, the Board of Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) reviewed our philosophy statement and decided that it was out of date in terms of language and person-centeredness. Board members asked me to consult with the SHS community and come back to them with a philosophy statement that captured the core beliefs and values of our organization.

Our Old Philosophy

The Semiahmoo House Society is committed to the provision of highest quality community-based services for individuals who have a developmental disability. 

We believe that each individual has the right to those services, which enable him or her to participate—to the greatest extent possible—in the same activities of daily life as a non-handicapped peer. We further believe that other rights—to liberty, personal freedom dignity and meaningful life—can be enhanced and protected by ensuring that individuals have strongly dedicated personal, family and service delivery support systems in place.

I first went to our management team and led them in a discussion about our old philosophy statement and some brainstorming around the new philosophy statement based on the two questions below. I gathered their written responses and created word clouds.

Philosophy statement 1 What do you believe about the people we support?

What is Semiahmoo House’s role in society?

Following the meeting with management, I met with various program staff groups to get their feedback on the old philosophy and brainstormed with them about the new philosophy. They added their beliefs about the people we support and the role of Semiahmoo House Society in the community.

I then took the staff brainstorming results to a group of 20 people we support and some staff members. I asked them two questions:

1)      What rights are important to you?

And

2)      What is the role of Semiahmoo House?

The second question was clarified to mean “How can SHS support you and your rights?” during the meeting.

The people at the final meeting were very engaged. I divided them into random groups of 4 or 5 people and asked them to choose someone to record the ideas of the group and someone to share the ideas with the rest of us. In most of the groups people we support were chosen to fill both the roles.

The rights that most groups came up with were to do with happiness, equality, employment, citizenship, and friendship. Another area that a lot of the people at this meeting touched on was “giving back to the community.” There was a real desire to volunteer and help other people (and for SHS to support people to do this). This was not something that had been specifically mentioned by staff, although we do support many people to do just this. In the draft statement I created after this meeting, I included the idea of helping others. I also focused on using straight-forward language—out of respect for the people we support and because things stated in a straight-forward manner are less likely to be misinterpreted.

First Draft of the New Semiahmoo House Philosophy Statement

The Semiahmoo House Society believes that people who have disabilities should be valued and included fully in their community, with the same rights and responsibilities as all Canadians.

We believe that all people have the right to control their own lives through personal choices when it comes to friendships, jobs, living arrangements, travelling, and recreational activities, and that all people have the right to give back to their community through volunteering and helping others.

We further believe that these rights can be enhanced and protected by ensuring that all people have personal, family and service delivery supports in place. 

Philosophy statement 3

I took the above philosophy statement to our Self-Advocate Caucus meeting. We discussed the statement together and they gave me some more straight-forward language suggestions that I incorporated into the statement below:

Second Draft of the New Semiahmoo House Philosophy Statement

Semiahmoo House Society believes that people who have disabilities should be valued and included fully in their community, with the same rights and responsibilities as all Canadians.  

We believe that all people have the right to control their own lives through personal choices when it comes to relationships, jobs, living arrangements, travelling, and recreational activities, and that all people have the right to give back to their community through volunteering and helping others. All people have the right to live full and meaningful lives and to be happy.

We also believe that these rights can be reinforced and protected by making sure that people are supported by friends, family, and workers.

After a final consultation with senior staff and a review of surveys responded to by people we support over the past few years, we finalized the statement to be taken to the Board.

Third Draft of the New Semiahmoo House Philosophy Statement (submitted for Board approval) 

Semiahmoo House Society believes that people who have disabilities should be valued and included fully in their communities, with the same rights and responsibilities as all Canadians.

We believe that all people have the right to control their own lives through personal choices about relationships, jobs, living arrangements, spirituality, travelling, and recreational activities, and that all people have the right to give back to their communities through volunteering and helping others. Everyone is entitled to live a happy, full and meaningful life.

We also believe that these rights can be reinforced and protected by making sure that people are connected to and supported by friends, family, staff, and the community. 

Finally, on September 10, 2013, the Board examined and discussed the statement, made an alteration (“people living in Canada” instead of “Canadians” because it was more inclusive) and passed a motion approving the philosophy as follows:

 Semiahmoo House Society Philosophy Statement

Semiahmoo House Society believes that people who have disabilities should be valued and included fully in their communities, with the same rights and responsibilities as all people living in Canada.

We believe that all people have the right to control their own lives through personal choices about relationships, jobs, living arrangements, spirituality, travelling, and recreational activities, and that all people have the right to give back to their communities through volunteering and helping others. Everyone is entitled to live a happy, full and meaningful life. 

We also believe that these rights can be reinforced and protected by making sure that people are connected to and supported by friends, family, staff, and the community.

The new philosophy statement will help maintain and foster a culture that is person-centred and inclusive at Semiahmoo House Society.

By Doug Tennant, Semiahmoo House Society

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