Members of Shuswap Connextions want to be included.
October is Community Inclusion Month and members of the self-advocacy group are calling for a more inclusive community in which people of all abilities are made welcome.
Four members of the group met on Oct. 1 to discuss their challenges and preparations for their fourth annual film festival and marketplace.
Describing herself as “an appendage” to the group, Wanda Radies teaches at Okanagan College.
Secretary to the group, Jesse Shaw is a current student, while Brian Erickson, president, and treasurer Clayton Bayes have entered the workforce.
Shuswap Connextions emerged from a group of Okanagan College adult special education students in collaboration with students from the human service worker program who decided the community had a need for a self-advocacy group.
These are people who often fall through the cracks because they don’t have visible disabilities, says Erickson, who is a janitor at the Salmar theatres.
“We have our own skills and just need help with some things. We need non-disabled people to understand the challenges people with disabilities have and not be scared,” he says, pointing out Connextions members are trying to create opportunities for people with or without disabilities.
Adds Radies, “We want people to also learn there are gifts, talents and abilities that people with disabilities also have.
Shaw moved to the Shuswap and heard about the group when he attended Radies’ Rights and Responsibilities class at the college.
“It was another way for me to get out with people like me – different from others,” he says, pointing out actor Tom Cruise is dyslexic, had trouble reading and, on occasion, has had someone record his lines for him to memorize.
It was from the Rights and Responsibilities class that Erickson, Bayes and and several others learned about advocating for themselves.
Bayes says one of the most important issues for people with disabilities is about finding better housing and better transit options.
Bayes has worked at Boston Pizza for three years and, like Erickson, wonders why there can’t be one community for everybody, whatever their abilities or disabilities.
“We are trying to make the community aware, to be more accepting, not shy away from us,” he says. “And make everyone more welcome.”
“Just so you know, I won’t tolerate any students being considered second class,” interjects Radies. “I’m right on it.”
Shaw continues to study at OUC, preparing for access to a future career.
“I just finished a course on self-esteem and how to improve yourself by finding your strengths and weaknesses, what interests or bores you, so you can find employment that you won’t hate but will provide a challenge,” he says, noting his volunteer work at R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum led to him being hired to do park maintenance for eight weeks this summer.
Shaw says he is often insulted by some people’s perception that he is not capable of doing something and Erickson says he is annoyed, rather than angry at people who “will not give us the time of day.”
“Sometimes I look at a neuro-typical person doing a job and think ‘I could do a better job than that,’” he says.
In order to help break down the barriers of exclusion, Connextions will host its fourth annual film festival, “Unlimited Possibilities,” beginning with an opening introduction at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17 at Kindale. A Marketplace, Artisans With Diversabilities, will run from 1 to 4 p.m. More information will be forthcoming.