Community Action Employment Plan

 If opportunity doesn’t knock, then build a door.

That is exactly what is happening for the estimated 83 percent of individuals who are eligible for services through Community Living BC, and are unemployed.

That door is being constructed via a three-year Community Employment Action Plan for adults with developmental disabilities who wish to work in their communities.

The Plan was launched in 2013.

Opening that door to employment opportunities puts those with developmental disabilities on a pathway of meaningful work that pays a living wage.

The goal of the Plan is to increase the employment of individuals served by CLBC by 1200 people over three years, from the current estimate of 2200 participating in employment.

How did this initiative come about?

Many years ago self-advocate leaders became disenchanted with their situations, performing menial tasks in segregated settings, usually without competent salaries.

Their refrain became “real work for real pay”.

Over the past number of years, young people leaving school and their families have almost increasingly been asking for real employment, elevated from the traditional menial, low-grade jobs that people with developmental disabilities were assumed to fit into.

There have been small numbers of people, who, with the support of their families, service providers, educators, and employers, have worked at rewarding jobs, earned a paycheck, made friends with co workers and gained confidence and satisfaction from a sense of belonging. Most importantly, paid employment means a higher quality of life.

Between 2007 and 2012, as awareness of the importance of employment grew, Community Living BC undertook a number of initiatives to build capacity and momentum.

The Customized Employment Demonstration Project concentrated on the value of individualizing the employment relationship to meet the needs of both the employer and the employee. Eight projects were funded for four years and the results were telling. Employment was possible for people across a wide spectrum of disabilities and that adoption of customized employment provided a real promise of success.

Reinventing day supports, those that promoted daytime activities, a comfortable home and leisure time with friends led to a deeper understanding of the need to move these supports towards employment. This shift came as a generation of youth experienced (at least periods of) inclusive education. Being marginalized or summarily excluded was not going to be accepted anymore.

BC Employment Development Strategy Network, in collaboration with Douglas College continuing education, developed curricula and began training staff to increase their competency in supporting people to find and keep work.

A number of service providers and practitioners joined together to create EmployNet, a hub for learning, sharing, and collaboration in advancing best practices in employment supports and to help employers improve the bottom line by employing a diverse workforce.

In spite of people’s efforts, progress over the years had been incremental at best.

It was time to build on the work already done and develop a sector-wide employment plan. They wanted to make a real impact.

In 2012, CLBC engaged individuals, families, service providers, CLBC staff, school and government representatives and employers to develop a three-year employment plan. The consultation culminated in a provincial employment summit that took place in Oct. 2012, with over 150 attendees from around the province and the Community Action Employment Plan focuses on building that door to inclusive employment situations.

The Plan focuses on shifting attitudes towards a belief that individuals with developmental disabilities have a valuable contribution to make in the workforce.

Every community is different. The Plan tailors solutions to the unique characteristics of a region because the nature of work opportunities differs in each region.

Approximately 600 youth leave school and become eligible for CLBC services each year. These youth are a priority for employment services where they can transition with their peers and receive services that will support their personal goals instead of determining them.

CLBC will increase the number of adults with developmental disabilities that it employs and contracts with.

Social enterprise and self-employment have the potential to provide many adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to pursue meaningful work. CLBC will better support individuals pursuing this option and creation of a self-employment program at post-secondary institutions.

The Ministry of Social Development has made improvements with BC Disability Benefits to make employment more attractive option for people to pursue.

A full copy of the plan is available at


Mapping Self Advocate Assets

Mapping Self Advocate Assets in the Community

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 that has been 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 withDavid 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



Stepping Forward to Inclusiveness

For students with developmental disabilities, overcoming obstacles has been the story of their lives.

Often those success stories ended when high school did, because university life was largely off limits for these students.

‘STEPS forward’ is providing a new chapter in the lives of these BC students who can now continue their education after high school, improving their options and life choices with regard to work, career planning, social connections, community involvement and living arrangements.

The impetus for inclusive post-secondary education came from young adults with developmental disabilities who wanted to continue their education after high school and who lobbied their families to support them to go on to college or university and to take the same courses and participate in campus life in the same ways as their siblings and peers.

In 1999, the families of these young adults came together to share ideas and explore inclusive options happening in other places across Canada. They heard that in Alberta young adults were pursing something called ‘inclusive post-secondary education’. Today, most post secondary institutions in Alberta have inclusive initiatives.

‘STEPS Forward’ was formed in 2001, to move young people away from the alternative, exclusive programs that limited their options, and onto the pathways used by everyone after high school.

‘STEPS Forward’ went from supporting one student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design to supporting multiple students at University of British Columbia, University of Victoria, Nicola Valley Institute of Technology and Simon Fraser University. The students enjoy the typical university college experience; selecting a concentration of studies, participating in activities, clubs and events, and working in co-op placements during the summer months.

Each student is supported individually. They meet with service providers and school personnel, attend orientation sessions and receive assistance in the transition from high school to college or university. Support staff are provided to each student, and help the student enrol in select courses, identify potential career paths and concentrations of studies, modify course materials or exams, adapt duties at volunteer or job positions and help them engage in campus activities. Regular meetings are held with students, family, and campus staff and after graduation, the student is assisted to find employment based exclusively on their interests and passions, and to maintain that employment.

Thanks to ‘STEPS Forward’, developmentally disabled students are learning, laughing, and working with their non-disabled peers.

They are finding out who they are.

“My passion is to make it unremarkable for students with developmental disabilities to learn, develop careers and pursue their passions alongside other students at post-secondary institutions,” said Tamara Hurtado, Executive Director of ‘STEPS Forward’.

“We should not be afraid to think outrageously, creatively or have ‘unrealistic’ expectations, as they are the motors to driving change in the inclusive life outcomes for young adults with developmental disabilities transitioning to adulthood.

Hurtado said that inclusive education is not a program, a place or a classroom, it is a way of understanding and living in the real world where there are people of all different sizes shapes colours and abilities.

She explained the values and beliefs that underpin inclusive post secondary education.

“Young adults with developmental disabilities want to learn and belong to post secondary campuses alongside other young adults,” she said. “In doing so they will reap the same benefits from the experience. These benefits are the natural result of authentic inclusive participation in courses, activities, clubs, communities and paid valued employment.”

This works two ways.

“It benefits not only the student, but also the campus community. It is an enriching experience for everyone,” said Hurtado. “ It builds capacity for diversity at these institutions. We have heard from faculty members how having a student with a developmental disability in their class has made them better teachers. One professor shared with us that his class is full of students but he has been lucky to have one true learner in his class and that was a student with developmental disabilities.”

Hurtado said the greatest single challenge to inclusive post-secondary education has been the fragility of year-to-year funding over the previous 12 years.

“We are hoping that going forward young adults and families will be able to choose inclusive post-secondary education as an option secure in the knowledge that support will be funded for this transitional pathway to adulthood.”

The biggest surprise for the ‘STEPS Forward’ organization has been how everyone has embraced this idea and have gone from initially wondering what this was all about to pushing for the service to be able available at their local college or university. The next chapter of this story is to expand inclusive access to all post secondary institutions across British Columbia.

For more information, go to




Letter to Santa; Don’t bring gifts this year.

Dear Santa
I hope this letter reaches you before you head out on Christmas Eve and use your magic and head-of-the-curve technology to visit over 150 million houses overnight, delivering presents to over 2.1 billion children, knowing exactly who is on your naughty and nice list.
This letter might seem strange, shocking, even un-Christmas-like, but I want you to think about it.
Please do not deliver presents this year. Not the kind that are found in stockings and under the tree, to be played with, built, ridden on, viewed, eaten, smelled, or collected.
What we need this year, the world, is something that will require all your infinite magic and all your miracles and most importantly, all your love for the children in our world.
I really think everyone will opt out of receiving individual gifts this year in favour of the following list.
For all the sick children in the world, those whose lives will be cut short by illness, accident, crime, nature, please make sure that the North Pole exists in Heaven, so their souls can come to you and spend the day, where they will have a sense of the divine, a hint of the beyond, a whiff of the transcendent, where everything they imagined is real, enchanting, sacred, and wondrous. Where the joy felt by little boys and little girls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is felt in their hearts for eternity.
That the joy and innocence and wonder find again those whose goals have become to terrorize our world, and that their lives are rewound to their infancy or childhood where they found security and happiness from their mother’s touch, where they played and sang and laughed, felt hope and playfulness and always, love, never hate, and ensure their lives go in a direction where they are not corrupted by evil and violence in the name of religion or culture or race or Holy Wars.
And while you are using your magic to rewind lives to do-overs, give that gift to ensure the addicted do not take the first drink, hit, snort, or shoot up and if it’s too late, that we embrace them in their pain and trauma and treat them for their sickness and not their criminality.
And finally, before you return to a forward motion, rewind the cycles of child abuse that impact too many, so that innocence is preserved and the cycle is no more.
That the world understands perversity and molestation, rape and pedophilia are not acts that remain isolated to one time and that those afflicted with the desire to harm and hurt and behave towards others only to satisfy themselves cannot be rehabilitated and should not be released back into our communities.
That the rich embrace giving, benevolence, and value relationships over acquisitions and simplicity over excess.
That people understand we are all the same no matter what color we are, no matter what our vocation is, whether we wear blue collars, white collars, or no collars, whether we have a home or not, whether we are fat or thin, disfigured or beautiful, and it doesn’t matter what gender we are, what gender we choose to be, who we choose to love, or, who we choose to worship, all that matters is we all practice the Golden Rule and hold that as most precious in defining how we live.
That Bibles are not thumped and every scripture or sacred text is not used to promote intolerance and hate.
That everyone finds something to have faith in, and even atheists feel the possibilities of the eternal, and sceptics and agnostics hear the music of ‘Silent Night’ or ‘Alleluia’ know there is something greater for them to rely on.
That we understand all animals are sentient beings, who have intrinsic value in their existence, life and beauty, and that they feel hurt, they love, they grieve, they feel sadness, fear, and joy, and they don’t want to fight nor should they be made to for sport and money. They do not want their babies to be taken away or to be butchered nor should they experience the terror of a kill floor or the trauma of abuse.
That minimum wage doesn’t mean minimum respect.
That we know, we believe, that when we talk to our loved ones in Heaven, they hear us.
That we take the politics out of leadership, the worship away from celebrities, and the sides out of marriage and those vows, our covenants to one another are cherished and remembered especially when life together gets difficult. And if they must be broken, that is done with dignity, sacrifice and respect.
That every person has four walls and a roof to call their own and if not , we who do help them get theirs without delay.
That every person has access to clean water, nutrition, and medicine.
That we all practice forgiveness.
That veterans are honoured at all times and we strive to send no one in their place.
That sons and daughters honour their mothers and fathers and hold sacred their family unit, the one they came from, and that they try on the shoes walked in by their parents, and are humble for it. That people realize estrangement breaks hearts and crushes souls and the collateral damage robs children of their heritage. Love and forgiveness trumps hate and grudges, every time.
That fathers be fathers mothers be mothers and both know your children need each one of you and remember, in times of conflict, the love that brought you together and created those who depend on your love and care.
That in the middle of the ‘I need’s’, ‘I want’s’, ‘Can I have’s’ are little boys washed ashore, dead, when all they were looking for was the life most of us have. That there are no borders for those little boys nor should there ever be.
That we live our lives free of road rage, bullying, pettiness, violence, gossip, back stabbing, avarice, ego, and replace those with compassion and empathy.
That we understand laughter is the best medicine.
That we protect our air, trees and water.
That we have faith in humanity, in human potential, and most of all, in the power of our imaginations.

And finally, for my Christian friends, many of us have lost the miracle of the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem amid the crowded store aisles, in the tinsel and wrapping paper, in the baking and decorating, and we forget that it all started in a tiny little town, and the simple cries of a newborn baby, in a manger, in a stable, with our Messiah. And He brought some miracles to us from the Kingdom of God.

That we all have hope and courage despite the evil in the world and good will come one day, hope for redemption, justice and true happiness.

Please Santa, if you can grant these wishes, we can skip the rest and be grateful for it.

Signed: Sian Thomson on behalf of all the mothers who worry for our children and their future.

December 2015