Season’s Greetings and a Hopeful New Year for 2024
More than 35 years ago as a young college student studying to work in this field, I was filled with the hopes and dreams of making a difference in the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities and their families. However, I was soon confronted by striking contradictions. I knew children and adults with intellectual disabilities had the potential to live amazing inclusive lives, but I was becoming disillusioned as the opportunities where I could make a positive and impactful difference were few and far between. I literally saw and experienced children and adults with intellectual disabilities being supported and funded to live marginalized and isolated lives. There was funding and supports available, but rather than being invested in enabling people to live good, ordinary and inclusive lives, children and adults with intellectual disabilities were being denied opportunities for inclusion and its proven benefits by being segregated and congregated, with no expectations of a meaningful or promising future. I began to wonder if there was even a place for me where I could be a part of changing lives and communities; I began to doubt my career choice and my purpose.
However, someone saw in me possibilities and capabilities (some I’m not even sure I saw in myself) and invited me to be part of a team that would break new ground in demonstrating the possibilities of inclusion where it had never been imagined before. To offer individuals with intellectual disabilities, including those with very significant disabilities and others who had lived the majority of their lives confined to institutions, the opportunity to demonstrate their potential to be welcomed, learn, pursue a career, and be recognized for the contributions they could make to those of us without an intellectual disability. And that was how Inclusive Post-Secondary Education became a reality.
Since then, just as someone recognized my potential and offered me the possibility to become my best self (admittedly a work in progress), I’ve dedicated my life to ensuring the same is true for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. That they don’t go through life unrecognized for their talents and abilities, as if their hopes and dreams don’t count, as if they don’t count. This commitment, this call to act and change lives, courses through the lifeblood of Inclusion Alberta, through everyone who works here, every family linked to us and reliant upon us, and hopefully through you as well.
On a day-to-day basis, we at Inclusion Alberta continue to confront a startling contradiction just as I did decades ago as a student. On one hand we walk with families and enable their family member with intellectual disabilities to accomplish things never dreamed of and still viewed by many as impossible, not worth the effort, or unimaginable. We see children with intellectual disabilities going to school alongside their neighborhood friends, learning together in inclusive classrooms, playing community sports with those same friends. We see young adults with intellectual disabilities being fully included in university, enjoying careers, finding love, enjoying life and knowing they belong. But these simple yet vital things – these ordinary things most of us expect for ourselves and our loved ones – are not simple at all if you happen to have an intellectual disability. They are hard fought, hard kept, and available to far too few.
We know this because on a day-to-day basis, we also stand with individuals and families who are marginalized, denied, excluded, and diminished. Individuals and families who are made to feel as if they are the problem for wanting to be included, to have even the simplest of opportunities, to have a decent, good life.
Inclusion Alberta is working to change these realities. We have helped thousands of families hold on to hope and defy the life-limiting perceptions imposed upon their family members. Every year, our advocates and inclusive education consultants support children with intellectual disabilities to be fully included in school, learning alongside their peers, and developing rich friendships. In partnership with post-secondary institutions, students with intellectual disabilities are being fully included in faculties and programs of study experiencing amazing opportunities year after year, expanding their knowledge and going on to pursue careers. Our partnership with Rotary Clubs, Rotarians and the business community has created over 800 inclusive jobs for individuals with intellectual disabilities, contributing meaning and purpose to their lives. Our family resource centres assist families to develop life enhancing goals for their family member and to access the support they require to achieve them. And that’s only part of what we do. All of which demonstrates what is truly possible, what should be. And none of which is possible without the support of community.
Your support of the inclusion movement sustains our hope, nourishes families and their family members with intellectual disabilities, and reminds them they are not alone in their desire for acceptance and belonging. Community support is testimony to the fact they don’t stand alone, that they do count. Perhaps you, too, are struck by the contradictions. Why, when we know what is possible, are more people with intellectual disabilities not living a rich and meaningful life fully included in community? I am hopeful that together we can create more inclusive communities where everyone has the opportunity to live a fulfilling life of belonging and possibility.
From all of us at Inclusion Alberta, I wish you and your family a peaceful holiday season and all the very the best now and through the New Year.
-Trish Bowman, Inclusion Alberta CEO