Making a Commitment to People with Disabilities

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“What commitment do you hold that compelled you to be here today?”

This is the provocative question that’s frequently posed to attendees at the start of community conversations. It helps to jumpstart the discussion, and to centre the people who have chosen to come out. Most of the time, the answers are, unsurprisingly, as varied as the people in attendance: some come because they want to get more involved in their community, some have a particular issue where they’d like to see some action, some just come out of a general curiosity or to meet other engaged community members.

But at the community conversation hosted by Community Living Trent Highlands and the Resonance Centre for Social Evolution at The Mount Community Centre on September 26, the response was unusually consistent: everyone in attendance was there because someone in their family is living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Their commitment is a lifelong one, to improve the lives of their marginalized family members, to speak up on their behalf, and to find solutions to help improve their lives.

It is a commitment with unusual urgency and passion, a commitment born out of empathy and love for someone they are very close to, and also born out of frustration, as they see every day how the world is not built to include and accept the gifts and challenges of their loved ones.

The conversation thus took on a sense of immediacy and direction from the very start. Those in the room were passionate about seeking solutions that would help their loved ones, and understood what would be needed innately.

Ideas quickly started flying around the room. Some were specific programs that could benefit our community—such as a mobile barrier-free washroom to allow people with disabilities to take part in community events, or a social network where people with disabilities could connect with each other. Others were more general desires—such as the need for more empathy and understanding in the community.



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There was also a powerful sense of connection among the people in the room. While each have faced unique challenges with their specific family member, much of their experience is shared. They spoke in a shared language and shared understanding about the challenges of communication, education, and getting other people in the community to understand their family member. Many in the room also had a shared history. They have known each other for years, have supported each other and counselled each other through hard times, and through that they have laid the groundwork to build a community of support.

But it was also clear was that this community of support is still in its early stages. One participant noted that many families living with disabilities did not come out to the meeting. They are simply too busy, and, after years of being ignored and passed over by the world at large, feel they don’t have the agency to make things better. Another participant noted that the meeting didn’t include anyone actually with an intellectual or developmental disability, and that it’s important to include them in the conversation as well, so that solutions are discovered with their input, and not just on their behalf.

As the event came to a close, some participants said they were leaving with a renewed sense of hope, or that the meeting had rekindled their desire to get involved and make their community better. Others were more cautious in their optimism, saying the gathering was a good first step, but they were eager to see where it will go from here.

What was clear was that there is a passionate and engaged community around intellectual and developmental disabilities. They have a high level of understanding of the lives of people with disabilities, and they are highly motivated to find solutions and improve their lives. These are the seeds that could grow into something powerful.

 

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Gabe Pollock

Gabe Pollock

Gabe Pollock is Editor-in-Chief of Electric City Magazine. He is a Peterborough-born freelance writer and editor who has covered Peterborough music and culture since 2012, first on Electric City Live and now in its magaziney successor.