Take Action - Meet Your MLA

Time for You to Take Action –Meet Your MLA

August 31, 2015:  A New Government - A New Cabinet, 70 New MLAs 

Now with Premier Notley assuming her leadership responsibilities as Premier, the Cabinet in place and new and existing MLAs assuming their roles and responsibilities, it is critically important families, individuals with developmental disabilities and their allies take the time to impress upon this new government the commitments that are essential for children and adults with developmental disabilities to live fully inclusive lives.  Now is the time to impress upon government and opposition MLAs, irrespective of the province’s financial challenges, the necessity to ensure the resources and policies necessary to ensure meaningful inclusion are sustained and advanced.  There are many ways the government can reduce expenditures without reducing the direct support and assistance families and individuals with disabilities rely upon. 

Inclusion Alberta has begun to meet with key Cabinet Ministers whose responsibilities directly impact the lives of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families.  However, the little attention Albertans with disabilities and their families received during the past election campaign and the as yet unknown direction this new government will take, your MLA needs to hear from you as to what changes and improvements are needed in supports and services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

Further in this document you will find six specific issues to consider in your discussions with your MLA.  Six are too many to share in one meeting so three or four, which are closest to your interests.

 

Obtaining a Meeting with Your MLA

Meeting face-to-face with your MLA is one of the most powerful and effective means of having government listen, understand and act.

Over the next few weeks we need you to contact your MLA, at her or his constituency office, to ask for a meeting.  A list of MLAs and their contact information is attached.  As the Legislature will not resume sitting until sometime later in October, most MLAs should be available for meetings over the next few weeks.  If you are not sure of your MLA you can use this link to find them.  You can also click here download an Excel file containing MLA contact information. 

Most MLAs are quite willing and interested in meeting with their constituents.  Meeting directly is more effective than emails or phone calls but if you can’t meet, then of course an email or phone call would be the next best approach.

Asking for a meeting is a relatively simple and straightforward process best accomplished by calling your MLA’s constituent office – an email follow-up would be a helpful.   Some MLA offices will ask you to send an email to request the meeting so they have a record of the request and your email address.

Just be clear you want to meet with YOUR MLA directly and not a staff member.  You will likely be given 30 minutes, which is all you should need.  Sometimes an MLA will be available to meet in your home and you should feel free to invite them to do so if possible.

When you obtain a meeting consider inviting up to two other supportive friends/family or family members of others with developmental disabilities to the meeting.  Or you could bring other constituents who are supportive of your interests.  This way the MLA gets to know the issues you would like to see addressed concern many other Albertans and in every constituency.  If there is not someone else to go with you or you’re not comfortable with the idea of inviting others, that’s perfectly fine. 

Each one of you taking the time to meet personally with an MLA signals to a politician that there are hundreds of others with the same interest in a better life for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.  

When meeting, it’s important for your MLA to learn about you, in addition to your being a family member or someone who supports inclusion.  You may have a number of community roles (e.g., employee, business owner, volunteer, etc.). By introducing yourself in this way it enables the MLA to appreciate the range of your community connections and engagement. 

If families, and their allies, were to meet with every MLA in the province, this would have a substantive impact.  It will send the message that there is a significant number of Albertans who want to see a commitment to action and needed change. 

The more of us who share a common perspective, the more likely MLAs, and their parties will be clear on what needs to be done.  What follows are six issues we would like the government to act on and opposition parties to push for.

Keeping the number of needed actions to six or less is an effective means of communicating priorities.  If there is an additional issue important to you that is not one of the six then you should include that issue and drop one or more of the suggested six.

We need you to let us know if you have asked for a meeting, when the meeting is scheduled, who is attending and then after the meeting share a little with us on how the meeting went.  If we know that every MLA or close to every MLA has had a meeting with families, we are in a much better position to advance needed funding, policies and practices.

Following the description of each issue there are actions for you to ask your MLA to consider and as importantly to let you know what they have done.

 

Inclusive Education 

It is imperative that parents be given the right to choose an inclusive education and that teachers have the resources and knowledge to provide a quality education to all students.  To be clear, only the unequivocal parental right to choose inclusion will drive the provision of the necessary resources and create the capacity for schools and classrooms to offer quality inclusive education.  The opposite position, which holds that first the resources have to be in place before a child can be included, has always meant children with developmental disabilities wait and wait and wait for inclusion to become a reality. 

Decades of research has proven that the benefits of an inclusive education, where a child with developmental disabilities is fully included in a regular classroom with modified access to the regular curriculum and instructional adaptation as needed, are overwhelmingly positive and superior to a segregated education.  There are Alberta school districts, schools and teachers who offer quality inclusion and deserve to be recognized for their commitment to all children.  However a parent has to be lucky enough to be residing in the right district or school boundaries at the right time and to have the right superintendent, principal or teacher in place.  People may choose to purchase lottery tickets in the hopes of winning the jackpot but parents should never have children’s need for a quality inclusive education left to chance. 

In approaching MLAs, it is helpful to understand that it is an Alberta Education requirement that school districts consider the regular classroom as the first placement option for students with special needs, in consultation with families.  Consultation is defined as a having a meaningful conversation and negotiation.  Consultation is not telling parents where their child will be placed but making every effort to accommodate a parent’s choice to have their child included in a regular classroom. By law, school districts are required to make every effort to include a child and when having agreed to include a child are legally obligated to provide the necessary resources.  Unfortunately Alberta Education does not ensure this requirement is enforced nor are many parents aware of the requirement and a District’s legal obligation to provide needed resources.

While it seems there will always be a need for additional educational funding the government must still ensure the education of children with disabilities is appropriately funded and delivered.   That is, even in times of economic constrains, school districts cannot legally sacrifice the education of children with disabilities to other interests, a position held by Canadian courts.  It is time for school districts to stop telling parents they lack the resources to offer their child an inclusive education.

Please ensure your MLA is aware of these existing legal requirements and that you want assurances your choice of an inclusive education in a regular classroom will be respected and honoured. Be wary of definitions of inclusive education as being something other than being included in a regular classroom.   Being in a regular classroom is fundamental and it is in the context of one’s friends and peers in the regular classroom that needed supports must be provided, with the curriculum and instruction modified as necessary.

Desired MLA Commitment: 

  • Ensure that parents of children with disabilities have the right to choose an inclusive education in the regular classroom. At the very least ask your MLA to ensure the existing Alberta Education requirements and school district legal obligations are enforced with the regular classroom to be the first placement option to be considered in consultation with parents and appropriate supports to be provided.
  • Monitor and hold school districts accountable in providing students with disabilities a quality inclusive education with appropriate teacher and classroom resources.

        

Inclusive Post-Secondary Education

Alberta is recognized globally as the world leader in inclusive post-secondary education for individuals with developmental disabilities.  Inclusive post-secondary has proven to be one of the most powerful means to employment for individuals with developmental disabilities and a powerful stepping-stone on the path to an inclusive life.  Because of the demonstrated success of inclusive post-secondary education there are increasing numbers of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families who are seeking this opportunity, but the number of students who can be accommodated remains limited. There are additional post-secondary institutions willing to include students with developmental disabilities and others willing to expand in partnership with Inclusion Alberta, but there are as yet no assurances these opportunities will continue to grow or be sustained.  The government can take pride in working with and supporting Inclusion Alberta to make Alberta a world leader.   However, individuals with developmental disabilities whose lives would be dramatically improved through inclusive post-secondary education will never have the chance to do so unless additional resources are committed.  This past year over 80% of students supported by Inclusion Alberta who completed their studies went on to be employed.

Desired MLA Commitment: 

  • Seek a commitment from your MLA to support the expansion of inclusive post-secondary educational opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities across the province. 

 

Employment 

Thousands of Albertans with developmental disabilities remain unemployed and marginalized when it is a known fact that they could be employed either part or full-time.  Less than 30% of adults with developmental disabilities are employment, yet it is clearly possible for 80% or more to be employed to a reasonable degree.  Even part-time employment vastly improves the financial status of individuals with developmental disabilities who are otherwise relegated to a far more impoverished life. 

Efforts to secure employment for a greater number of Albertans with developmental disabilities in recent years have proven successful. There is a need to focus on sustaining and expanding proven employment initiatives.  For example, Inclusion Alberta’s partnerships with Rotary Clubs, businesses and municipalities to create employment opportunities by the hundreds has received international recognition.  In addition, Inclusion Alberta’s Member Associations are creating additional jobs, including employment for youth with disabilities in collaboration with high schools.  

While the government has had an ‘employment first’ agenda for individuals with disabilities in the recent past, it is not certain this will continue or to what extent.  If the government does not advance employment for individuals with developmental disabilities, particularly during an economic downturn, Albertans with disabilities will be disproportionally harmed relative to other Albertans.   The government needs to continue to fund the transportation of individuals with developmental disabilities to their jobs when public transportation is not available or inaccessible.  The government has begun to withdraw transportation funds to individuals with developmental disabilities.  This is jeopardizing their continuing employment and making it impossible for others to secure a job.  The government needs to become a leader in the employment of individuals with developmental disabilities and to support the work of Inclusion Alberta and others in furthering employment.

Desired MLA Commitment: 

  • Given Albertans with developmental disabilities want to and can work, ask your MLA to ensure they have every opportunity to gain meaningful employment and the supports necessary to do so.

 

Housing and Home Ownership

The government has yet to express its support for individuals with developmental disabilities to have a real home in the community, including creating the means for people to own their home.  Given almost all the political parties in the last election referred to Michener Centre as a home to be funded by government, why does the same not apply to the thousands of individuals with developmental disabilities living in community?  Where is the funding from the government and the support from the opposition parties for those who want the choice to have a home in community – a townhouse, a condo, a bungalow – and the choice of who lives with them, if anyone?  On average it costs twice as much to support someone to live in Michener Centre in comparison to supporting someone in the community.  The government has listened to the voices of the few still living in Michener Centre, but why have they not listened to the voices of the many thousands living in community?

The current unwarranted imposition of excessive regulatory control and invasive intrusion into the sanctity of the homes and housing of individuals with developmental disabilities, in the name of safety, needs to end and end now.  The Persons with Developmental Disabilities Safety Regulations have created an environment in which the homes of individuals with developmental disabilities are being turned into increasingly bureaucratic and regimented facilities.  Staff and agencies supporting individuals to live in community are being force to expend resources and staff time on burdensome administrative details when they should be engaged in supporting individuals to have a real home and a meaningful life in community,

Suggesting, as government has, that any debate on the merits of the Safety Standards is akin to wanting to put people at risk, is insulting to families and individuals with developmental disabilities. The current safety standards are oppressive and risk the safety of individuals with developmental disabilities as they reflect an institutional mentality.  Appropriate safety mechanisms are best established with families, individuals with developmental disabilities and those who support them.  Individuals with developmental disabilities need the safety and security that comes from having a real home.

Desired MLA Commitment: 

  • Will you support the establishment of a home ownership plan for individuals with developmental disabilities as well as accessible and affordable housing?
  • Are you prepared to support the repeal of PDD’s Safety Regulations and the establishment of transparent process in collaboration with families, individuals with developmental disabilities and their families to create safety standards that respect the sanctity of home? 
  • Are you committed to ensuring individuals with developmental disabilities will not be threatened by institutionalization in the future?

 

Family Support for Children with Disabilities (FSCD) & Child Intervention:

Alberta can take pride in having one of the most progressive family support programs, with its accompanying legislation, in the country.  However, too few families access FSCD, relative to the number of families who have children with disabilities and others at times find their funding being reduced or limited, particularly if they have children with significant disabilities.  FSCD needs to continue to value all children equally, ensuring children with significant disabilities and their families have the resources to thrive and participate in community life.

There is the risk of bureaucratization and less transparency if budgets tighten.  This risk becomes serious and harmful when financial restraints are applied to families who have children with disabilities; for them it is as if the belt is tightening around their necks.  FSCD needs to continue to be responsive and transparent. This includes being supportive of parents who have intellectual disabilities. 

Relative to their proportion of the population, Aboriginal families have very limited access to FSCD.  Much more needs to be done to ensure Aboriginal parents are aware of FSCD, the supports available and how these can be accessed.

Most Albertans are unaware of the thousands of children with disabilities in the child welfare system and in particular the over representation of children with disabilities who are Aboriginal.  Many of these children come from families who do not receive the supports needed to raise their children at home and others because they required protection.  While in child welfare children with disabilities often move frequently, do not have access to an inclusive education and some die, often because their disability needs are not understood or accommodated by the child welfare system.  To-date the child welfare system, whether critiqued by the media given the number of children who die in care or by the Children’s Advocate for inadequately supporting children with disabilities or parents with developmental disabilities, has not demonstrated the needed sufficient commitment to alter its failed practices and policies.

Desired MLA Commitment: 

  • Recognizing families of children with disabilities require ready access to an array of supports, will you ensure FSCD continues to remain responsive, family friendly and equally valuing of children with significant disabilities in the provision of supports and services?
  • Will you support increased efforts to enable Aboriginal families to be able to access FSCD and in a manner that reflects their cultural values?
  • Will you commit to taking immediate action to protect the lives of children with disabilities in the child welfare system and ensuring the provision of supports for parents with developmental disabilities?

 

Community Inclusion & Community Supports:

With neither the government nor any party clearly articulating a value for the inclusion of individuals with developmental disabilities in the fullness of community life, this vacuum in policy and direction is concerning.  Assurances are needed from government and opposition parties of their commitment to supporting inclusion across the life-span and on an individualized basis.  Alberta needs to move from providing supports to some individuals with developmental disabilities either according to their age or type of disability and instead create as seamless a system as possible that supports individuals across the life-span and irrespective of the nature of anyone’s disability.  Current efforts, for example, to amalgamate FSCD and PDD will not work unless families and individuals with disabilities are at the table to ensure a flexible, transparent and responsive system is developed.  This includes fulfilling the promise of multi-year contracts for individuals, families and those providing supports.

Supposed funding determination tools such as the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS) which categorize people on the basis of their disability, with no demonstrated benefit to individuals and their families, must be abandoned in favour of a values-based person centered planning, with supports and funding to be provided accordingly.  The government bureaucracy had completed ten thousand plus SIS assessments with next to no overarching improvements in the quality of anyone’s life and where improvements have been established, these are without any reliance on SIS.

Government must provide effective stewardship of its always limited resources to ensure the maximum benefit is derived for whom those resources are intended.  Instruments, such as SIS, serve the interests of systems not individuals and families, draining precious resources in money and time.  Currently, individuals and families are told they must agree to a SIS assessment for which there never seems to be a shortage of government resources, only to be told once assessed that the resources needed for supporting them are not available.  Families, individuals with developmental disabilities and those providing supports require at the very least, the choice of independent planning resources which are typically more effective and efficient than government.   We need less investment in the expansion of government into the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities and more expansion of community partnerships that harness its capacity for cost-effective inclusion.

There are far too many individuals with developmental disabilities and in fact, one is too many, living with their aging parents and being denied access to the supports and funding that are necessary for a more engaged life in community.  Others have only limited community activities or languish in day programs when they desire to be included in community life.  Systemic change is needed to ensure not one life is wasted.

There is also a need for additional resources across the province for families who want to access Family Managed Supports (FMS).  Families have been promised, for years, additional resource centres to enable to them to effectively access FMS, plan for a good life and act on that plan.  These Centres and related resources have yet to materialize.

Currently supports for adults with developmental disabilities are not available on First Nations due to unresolved jurisdictional differences between the federal and provincial governments.  This means adults with developmental disabilities and their families, who live on reserves, experience great hardships and vulnerabilities.  Given child welfare and FSCD can be provided on reserve there is an immediate need to provide supports to adults with developmental disabilities on reserves as well.

Desired MLA Commitment: 

  • Can we rely on you to support the provision of services and funding to enable individuals with developmental disabilities to be valued and participating members of their communities?
  • Will you call for immediate cessation of the Support Intensity Scale to be replaced by a person-centered community inclusion planning approach?
  • Given the increase interest of families in accessing Family Managed Supports (FMS), will you ensure the additional resources promised are realized? 
  • First Nations adults with developmental disabilities and their families are unable to access needed supports on reserve; will you work to alter this unacceptable reality?

 

Conclusion:

Inclusion Alberta strongly encourages individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, those who provide support and their allies to meet with their respective MLAs.  Take the initiative to discuss the issues of concern, seek your MLA’s commitment to act, share with us the outcomes of your meetings and follow-up with your MLA on actions taken.

If you are not sure of your MLA you can use this link to find them.  You can also click here download an Excel file containing MLA contact information. 

Click to download a printable version of this document

Contact:

Inclusion Alberta – mail@inclusionalberta.org

Tel. 780-451-3055   Toll free 1-800-252-7566

 

 

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