Season’s Greetings: Imagining a Future of Belonging
I’d like to ask you to do something that you might find a bit uncomfortable: To try and experience the world from the perspective of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families. And then consider what you might be able do to change that reality.
The reason this can be challenging is that we seldom allow ourselves to connect to the painful experiences of others. It’s a protective mechanism most of us have. When our oldest daughter was three and on life support following heart surgery, my husband and I lived moment by moment, hour by hour, watching her every breath, not knowing if she would pull through. There really aren’t words that capture the terror and agony of waiting, watching, and hoping.
My sister was taking care of our other two children. She told me afterwards one of her friends, another mom, said to her she couldn’t imagine what we were going through. And my sister said, ‘you’re right, but it’s not so much you can’t but that it’s too frightening to let yourself get close to feeling what their pain feels like’.
Our daughter recovered, but as I said, I’m asking you to try, even for a moment, to deeply imagine what it must be like for someone you love to have the worth of their life denied or diminished, to be excluded or rejected, isolated and alone, with little hope for a better future because they happen to have a developmental disability. And then to imagine that’s not just today, but also what tomorrow holds for the person you love.
In Alberta, there are thousands (yes, thousands) of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families on ever-growing waitlists for supports and services which are essential to their well-being. Essential for their dreams and aspirations for a life of meaning and belonging to be realized. These dreams and aspirations no different than your own.
Across the province year after year parents are told there aren’t enough resources for their children to be included in regular classrooms, when in fact this isn’t true. Parents know this really means their children are considered less important and not wanted or welcomed. What do you tell your child with disabilities as you and they watch with breaking hearts as their brothers or sisters, or children from down the street are welcomed at the school that doesn’t want them?
Almost 80% of adults with developmental disabilities are unemployed. How do you then see yourself, and your place and value in the world, when everyone else passes you by on the way to their jobs and careers?
Hundreds of families call our office all year long, each one describing how their family member’s life is on hold. You can hear the pain in their breaking voices as they watch time rob their family member of a life of meaning, while those of us without developmental disabilities often take our lives of belonging and inclusion for granted.
You and I know this is not the way the world should be but if we don’t take a moment to try and understand what the world looks and feels like when someone has a developmental disability, how we will know how much and how urgently it needs to change?
The remarkable yet sad truth is that we know a different world is possible. Remarkable in that Inclusion Alberta, with your support, has enabled thousands of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families to receive a quality inclusive education, secure meaningful employment and obtain the disability-related supports they require. This is what Inclusion Alberta has achieved by supporting and strengthening families, creating possibilities and changing communities. Sad though at the same time as we are limited in what we can accomplish at any one moment in time as the waiting list for our support grows.
Our Advocates and Resource Centre staff work individually with hundreds of families to help them navigate complex systems and gain access to much needed supports. We help families to imagine and develop an expansive vision and to take steps towards realizing that vision. Through our Family Leadership Series we assist families to deepen their knowledge and capacity to challenge assumptions about what is possible and take action to change their communities. Our Inclusive Education Consultants work with schools across the province to demonstrate the power and possibility of inclusive education. Our Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Partnerships have expanded this year to create more opportunities for students with developmental disabilities to be fully included in regular programs of study, develop knowledge and skills, form friendships and connections, and have life-enriching experiences that help define and shape their future, ultimately gaining employment. In partnership with Rotarians, Rotary Clubs and the business community, we have created over 725 jobs to date for adults with developmental disabilities, enhancing the economic and social inclusion so vital to all of our well-being. All of this enables children and adults with developmental disabilities to live lives of promise and hope.
We imagine a day where each and every family has the support they need to experience a life filled with possibilities. The volume of calls for assistance to our office has increased by over 70% from the same time last year. Families desperate to see their child welcomed and included in their neighborhood school and receive a quality education. The list of adults with developmental disabilities hoping to obtain employment and contribute to their communities grows continuously. Families heartbroken because they can’t access the support they need as they watch their loved ones’ futures disappear.
At the start, I asked you to try for a moment to experience the loss or anguish a family or an individual with developmental disabilities experiences when the world does not value you or want you in their schools, communities or workplaces. I am asking you now to understand a very different world does exist for those that Inclusion Alberta can reach. Now and into the new year, my hope is that you stand with Inclusion Alberta as we work to create a world where children and adults with developmental disabilities are valued, participating and welcomed community members who can move from the pain of exclusion to lives of belonging.
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.
-Trish Bowman, Inclusion Alberta Chief Executive Officer