Season’s Greetings: A Reflection on 2020, and Moving Forward Into the New Year
By Trish Bowman, Inclusion Alberta CEO
We’re all missing being together. It is times like this that the reality of how much our world has changed is keenly felt. COVID-19 has brought challenges that most of us never imagined—month after month of isolation, loneliness, financial insecurity, fears for our health and that of our loved ones, and the deep yearning to be with each other, really be with each other. Most of us trust that one day the loneliness and isolation caused by the pandemic will pass.
But not so for children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families. They are all too familiar with loneliness, isolation, and fear of the future, and that won’t evaporate when the pandemic ends. When the pandemic hit in March, it rubbed raw the already wounding hurt of marginalization all too common prior to COVID-19.
When the pandemic broke out, we were suddenly thrust into an intense battle to ensure the lives of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families were equally considered in provincial and national responses, because quite frankly, they weren’t. From access to equitable financial benefits, the provision of PPE, hospital policies and triage protocols that threatened the very lives of people with developmental disabilities; at every step we had to intervene. Never have I been more aware of the importance of Inclusion Alberta’s voice in safeguarding the lives of individuals and families as in the past nine months.
But it is also in the darkest times that the human spirit can shine through brightest. I have been inspired by the refusal of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families to abandon hope and encouraged by their strength and resilience, despite the numerous challenges we know still lie ahead. Children and adults with developmental disabilities have much to teach us in how to retain our humanity.
While almost 80% of the individuals supported by the Rotary Employment Partnership were temporarily laid off, those in essential services continued to show up, some offering to pick up shifts for co-workers who couldn’t find childcare. In the middle of a pandemic with the support and commitment of Rotarians and the business community, we have seen an impressive number of jobs restored or created in the past six months, with over 600 jobs being created since the inception of the partnership.
Students with developmental disabilities attending university or college were supported to move to on-line learning and in the face of this isolation and loneliness became connectors for their classmates. In the absence of campus life, one student reached out to two classmates to arrange regular physically distanced walks, deepening their friendship. All three talk about how life-saving this connection has been. Another reached out through their campus ministry to invite prayer requests for students struggling with loneliness and isolation, reminding students they hadn’t been forgotten.
Our Inclusive Education Consultants created resources for families trying to teach their children at home and a virtual space for families to learn and connect. With school resuming we continued to support families in their struggle to secure a quality inclusive education, with all the new challenges COVID-19 presents.
And through our Darrell Cook Family Managed Supports Resource Centre we continue to support families during the pandemic to maintain an expansive vision of a fully inclusive life in community, despite our changed and changing reality.
Given the pandemic and challenging economic times, the future is more uncertain than ever. With an unemployment rate for adults with developmental disabilities between 70-80%, literally thousands of adults with developmental disabilities do not have the opportunity to share their gifts and talents, develop meaningful relationships, or gain some financial stability in times of proposed cuts to supports and services. The opportunity to participate in post-secondary education, which has employment outcomes of over 80%, is still only available to a fraction of adults with developmental disabilities, with hundreds more waiting for an opportunity.
We hear daily from families desperate for assistance. Parents denied the choice of an inclusive education, which jeopardizes their child’s future. Families unable to get the support they or their family member require to be safe and secure. Families unable to return to work because their son or daughter is at home and they cannot obtain the needed supports. Families facing the impossible choice of risking the safety of their son or daughter or losing their job and facing financial crisis.
There is much to be done. But there is much to hope for, because we know so much more is possible. We’ve seen it, even in these difficult times. Individuals and families persevering, growing, giving back. We will continue our work into the new year to ensure a more promising and inclusive future. A future where the loneliness and isolation ends for all of us. And to be there for the thousands more, who in their heart of hearts, hold on to the light of possibility, in the darkness of a pandemic. This work has been a passion my entire adult life, and I’m so thankful for all that families and their sons and daughters with developmental disabilities have taught me about courage, resiliency and possibility.
On behalf of the Board and staff of Inclusion Alberta, we wish you and your family all the best this holiday season and into the New Year.