Changing Lives Through Advocacy

November 22, 2012
For people with developmental disabilities, it can be a challenge just to participate in the seemingly normal aspects of everyday life.
This is why the Alberta Association for Community Living works to create a more welcoming environment in schools, the workplace and beyond. Together with the local Lloydminster Association for Community Living, this national nonprofit is making the Border City a better place.
?We?re committed to helping families and people with developmental disabilities to have as inclusive and meaningful a life as possible,? said Bruce Uditsky, CEO of the AACL.
On Nov. 14, the AACL and LACL held three information sessions at the Root: Community Emporium. The purpose of these meetings was to let residents know what?s available to them.
?Essentially we sit down with a family and figure out what it is they?re seeking and try to assist them,? said Uditsky.
Udinsky speaks from experience. He and his wife adopted their second son, who has Down?s syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, because they saw that he was ?Languishing in the child welfare system.?
Through advocacy, the organization makes everything from extracurricular activities to education and jobs accessible to developmentally disabled kids and adults.
?Let?s say you want your child to be included in school, in a regular classroom, we?ll help and work with the school to ensure you get a quality education,? he said.
Melissa Johnson works with the AACL in the Lloydminster area on a project called Supportive Communities: Strengthening Families. The project seeks to benefit the lives of children like Udinsky?s son simply by ?getting a child involved in swimming lessons or gymnastics ? just doing typical kids things,? she said.
In this way, the idea is not to establish separate programs for the developmentally disabled, but to integrate them into the non-disabled world. One of the most pressing issues facing developmentally disabled Albertans today is an unemployment rate of over 70 per cent, said Uditsky.
Employers should recognize that there?s an under-used workforce of ?People who want to work, know the value of work and would give anything to be able to show and prove what they?re able to do,? he said.
Another major problem is with respect to post-secondary education, which ties into the unemployment because of how necessary college or university degrees are for getting ahead.
?We have an initiative at Lakeland College, at the two campuses, to provide opportunities for young adults with developmental disabilities to continue their education and go on to be employed,? said Uditsky.
With 18 institutions in the province that accommodate students with developmental disabilities, Alberta is recognized as a leader, said Uditsky. Meanwhile, there are few that offer the same services in Saskatchewan.
This discrepancy presents a special predicament for Lloydminster. Two different arms of the Canadian Association for Community Living with varying degrees of government support serve either side of the city.
?It?s sadly unfair that if you live on the wrong side of the street, so to speak, you watch someone else have an opportunity your son or daughter may not have,? he said.
However, there are things that anyone can do to improve the situation.
?Be as inviting and welcoming as possible,? said Uditsky. ?If you have a child without disabilities in ballet classes, or cubs or scouts, and a parent of a child with disabilities would like to see their child included, you could be the parent that helps to welcome them.?
Stacey Andrews is a community development co-ordinator who works in a partnership role between both the AACL and the LACL. A new project she?s working on here in town is called the Engaging Families and Creating Good Lives Cohort.
The cohort is a network of 10 to 12 families who have loved ones that are developmentally disabled. As a group, they offer each other  support and come up with strategies to benefit the team and each member individually. But they also function ?at a deeper level than a support group in that there is an underlying commitment to creating a good inclusive life.?