People are Leaders

Beach wheelchair b

Semiahmoo House Society (SHS), a UNITI partner that exists to support people who have disabilities to live full and valued lives in their communities, turns 60 this year. Much has changed since 1958, when the accepted practice was that children with intellectual disabilities were sent to institutions and did not participate in public schooling or the life of the community. Over the past 60 years, support for people with disabilities has progressed from custodial support focused on segregation and “safety” to a much better understanding that people have the right to be fully included in their communities with equal opportunities to contribute through volunteering, employment, and other ways of sharing their gifts and talents. At SHS, our Board, after extensive consultation with the community, creates ENDS to describe what the organization exists to achieve. The broadest END is that “SHS exists so that people with disabilities live self-directed lives in the community,” and cascading from this broad global END are the following three sub-ENDS:

  • People are valued members of society
  • People decide how they live their lives, and make informed choices
  • The rights of people are protected

Each of the sub-ENDS has that further refine what SHS exists to achieve, including statements such as “people have intimate relationships,” “people have paid employment opportunities,” and “people decide when to share personal information.” The ENDS are not meant to be stagnant and do evolve as we learn more about best practices in inclusion. Hence, “people have paid employment opportunities” was added as we understood that people are successful when they have true employment and are treated fairly by employers. This statement on employment is why we created WISE Employment Solutions and moved away from long-term training for people with disabilities that did not result in true jobs in the community. Looked at in their entirety, the ENDS of SHS describe what a good life looks like when barriers are removed and people are supported to achieve their dreams. This video demonstrates what a good life looks like and features people who are claiming their rightful place in the community.

The latest addition to our ENDS is an interesting one: “People are leaders.” This statement was developed by the Board for SHS as a result of the realization that all civil rights movements should be led by the people most impacted, which in the Inclusion Movement should be people who have disabilities. This new ENDS statement means that SHS will support people who have disabilities to become leaders in their communities. Here are some of the ways that we are doing just that:

Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo

This group of advocates who have disabilities pursues project that have a benefit for the whole community. They brought beach wheelchairs to White Rock Beach, created an “Equally Empowered” presentation about human rights that they present to school-age kids, and sponsor all-candidates debates during elections. SHS provide support staff so the self-advocates can do their thing and be leaders in their community.

Quality Assurance at SHS

Self-advocates have also taken on a leadership role in quality assurance at SHS. Each year, self-advocates review how SHS is doing in achieving its ENDS. This year they will be interviewing groups of people from all of our services to see how we are doing with ENDS 2: People decide how they live their lives, and make informed choices. Their findings are compiled into a report that is presented to the Board so they know how SHS is doing in achieving its ENDS.

Sharing the Message of Inclusion

Self-advocates have taken on leadership roles in other areas. Alex Magnussen, who is featured in the video above, has given two TEDx talks and has sat on numerous non-profit boards. The Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo recently co-hosted a regional meeting for the provincial project, Re-Imagining Community Inclusion. 80 people attended and were able to hear first-hand from people with disabilities what needs to be done to create a community where all people are valued. Self-advocates have also travelled to Ottawa for accessibility consultations and are taking on speaking roles at many different conferences and events. One of the ways that SHS supports this is by sponsoring an inclusive Toastmasters Course at our Treehouse.

SHS will continue to work hard to achieve our ENDS and we are excited that we are part of a shift that will see people with disabilities become the leaders in claiming their rightful place in the community.

By Doug Tennant, UNITI Executive Director

UNITI is the partnership of three affiliated non-profit societies that have existed for decades: Semiahmoo House Society, Peninsula Estates Housing Society and The Semiahmoo Foundation.

Semiahmoo House Society provides quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families. Peninsula Housing Estates Society provides affordable and inclusive housing that reflects the diversity of our community. The Semiahmoo Foundation assures that UNITI has the recognition, relationships and resources to support an inclusive community.

Together, we’re stronger!

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