Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, has released the following statement in recognition of Registered Disability Savings Plan Awareness Month:
“October is Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) Awareness Month in British Columbia. More than 31,000 people with disabilities have opened an RDSP in B.C., giving our province the highest per capita enrolment rate in Canada. This month is an opportunity to further increase awareness of RDSPs and how they can help to ensure a stable and independent financial future for people with disabilities.
“Right now, 40% of eligible people have signed up, which means there are still tens of thousands of British Columbians who are qualified but don’t have an RDSP yet. We want to make sure that every eligible person knows about this savings plan and how to access the resources and support to sign up.
“RDSPs are an excellent savings tool that help people with disabilities, and their families, plan a financially secure and independent future without affecting disability assistance. Anyone under the age of 60 who qualifies for the disability tax credit can open an RDSP. The federal government matches up to $3 for every dollar deposited through the Canadian Savings Grant program — up to $3,500 annually to a lifetime maximum of $70,000. People with low incomes can also receive a Canada Savings Bond of up to $1,000 annually, to a lifetime maximum of $20,000, even if they aren’t able to contribute.
“Reducing poverty is a major challenge for our province. The RDSP is a valuable tool that can help to address poverty for people with disabilities. It’s an opportunity for people with disabilities to have some peace of mind, knowing they will have savings available as they age. I encourage everyone to visit RDSP.com to sign up or help someone start an RDSP today.”
More than 926,100 British Columbians aged 15 to 64 years, almost 25% of the population, identify as having a disability.
The federal government launched the RDSP in 2009.
B.C. continues to lead Canada with the highest per capita uptake of RDSP in the country:
40% of eligible people now hold an RDSP (31,000 British Columbians).
The average value of an RDSP in December 2017 was $24,300 — $2,050 above the national average.
Vancouver police are asking the public for help locating wheelchair-using senior who was last seen Saturday in the Downtown Eastside.
In a release, the Vancouver Police Department said Garry Molyneux didn’t return to his care facility near West 12th Avenue and Ash Street Saturday night. Police said they are concerned for Molyneux’s safety.
Molyneux was last seen Saturday near the intersection of Main and Hastings streets around 7:30 p.m., police said.
Police said Molyneux is paralyzed from a stroke, adding that he can’t speak and uses a motorized wheelchair. Because of this, police said, he is unable to ask for assistance.
Molyneux requires medication for diabetes and may seem confused or disoriented, police said.
Police described Molyneux as white, with fair skin. He is 5’7″ tall with a medium build, short grey hair and brown eyes, and was last seen wearing blue jogging pants and a long jacket.
Anyone who sees him is asked to call 911 and stay with him until first responders arrive.
Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, has released the following statement in celebration of Disability Employment Month:
“September is Disability Employment Month in British Columbia. This is a time to celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities in the workforce and to recognize the many inclusive employers throughout B.C.
“Government is working with the disability and business communities to help ensure people with disabilities have the opportunity for meaningful employment, greater independence and full participation in society.
“Businesses throughout B.C. can receive support with inclusive hiring through the Presidents Group Community of Accessible Employers. It provides employer-focused tools, resources and access to training on how to effectively recruit, hire and retain employees with disabilities.
“WorkBC centres provide support and resources to employees with disabilities, including personalized job-search support and the Assistive Technology Service program, administered provincially through the Neil Squire Society.
“Job seekers and employers can contact their local WorkBC centres to learn more about the Disability Employment Month events held in their area and the resources and supports available to help people with disabilities gain good, worthwhile employment.
“Inclusive hiring helps businesses attract and retain employees with disabilities who make a valuable contribution to the workplace, while also expanding the range of customers and clients. British Columbia is facing a shortage of skilled workers and there are thousands of enthusiastic and motivated people in the disability community who can meet that demand.
“Everyone plays a role in fostering a welcoming workplace culture. We all want B.C. to be an accessible and inclusive province, where people of all abilities can participate in every aspect of life. Working together, we can reach this goal.”
More than 926,100 British Columbians aged 15 to 64 years, almost 25% of the population, identify as having a disability.
Almost 90% of consumers prefer companies that employ people with disabilities, according to a study cited in a 2012 Conference Board of Canada report.
The provincial government offers services and programs that support job seekers and employees with disabilities and employers who want to build an inclusive workplace, including:
WorkBC Assistive Technology Services
Community Transition Employment Plan
There are 102 WorkBC locations throughout the province that serve British Columbians, including people with disabilities. WorkBC also offers 24/7 access through Online Employment Services.
The Presidents Group, a group of B.C. business leaders, are encouraging and supporting employers across different sectors to hire more people with disabilities: www.accessibleemployers.ca
This story is part of Amy Bell’s column Parental Guidance that airs on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition.
Parenting can be an overwhelming endeavour filled with chaos, doubt and daily fears for your child’s well-being. But if you are a parent to a child with a disability of any kind, you might feel those battles more keenly than others and face fears most parents can’t even begin to fathom.
Through no effort of my own, I have been blessed with two remarkably ordinary children, but for parents with more extraordinary children — who have disability and needs unique to them — parenting can be a time filled with confusing lows and incredibly rewarding highs.
White Rock resident Leslie Stoneham wasn’t expecting to give birth to a child with Down syndrome 31 years ago. When she had Kierra, she was provided with outdated information and was still presented with the option of giving her newborn up for adoption — in 1988!
But she knew instantly that she was going to raise Kierra just as she had been raising her older daughter, and that meant plenty of love — sometimes tough love — compassion, and joy. It also meant focusing on Kierra as a whole person and not just someone with special needs.
Leslie has also had to fight and advocate for Kierra to get the assistance and government funding she is eligible for, and wishes that it wasn’t such a battle for parents to get the support their children deserve.
Can there be too much support? Not really— it takes a village, after all — but as any parent knows, there are times you need to push your child so they can fully realize what they are capable of .
‘Give her that opportunity’
Lucia Arreaga is a Bowen Island resident and the mother to a brilliant, boisterous six-year-old girl named Maya. Maya has ADCY5-related dyskinesia — an incredibly rare genetic disorder that causes uncontrolled movements and greatly affects Maya’s mobility.
Yes, she needs a great deal of assistance from her family, friends and community. But her family is very conscious of the fact that while Maya does faces many challenges, part of what will ultimately help Maya is knowing when to take a step back.
“It’s that fine line of staying close but not too close”, said Arreaga. “Give her that opportunity to prove to herself that she can do it.”
Parents such as Leslie and Lucia and countless others just want their children to be seen as people first — regardless of any special needs they might have. That they not be defined by their disabilities and that everyone realize just how lucky they are to have these children in their lives.
“She’s been my teacher. She’s taught me to be a better person, ” said Stoneham.
Arreaga has the same praise for Maya: “She’s an incredible, incredible human being … who has changed so many people’s perceptions in life.”
All too often, we view people with special needs and disabilities by what they can’t do, instead of celebrating all that they are capable of and capable of becoming.
Young kids are often most open to children with disabilities, but somewhere along the line to adulthood, we forget that natural acceptance and focus too much on what people are lacking.
As parents, we need to work hard to instill and keep this kindness and openness in our children.This will only continue to make a more inclusive community for everyone, which ultimately benefits those with disabilities and those without.
B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition organizer Trish Garner, pictured in 2012, calls the province’s $50 increase to monthly income and disability assistance rates ‘a drop in the ocean’ that still keeps rates ‘shockingly low.’ Arlen Redekop / PNG files
A boost to assistance rates are among the initiatives in Carole James’s latest budget intended to ease the financial burden faced by hundreds of thousands of B.C. residents who live in poverty.
But the financial measures, which come in advance of an anticipated poverty reduction plan slated for a March release, received muted reaction from some anti-poverty proponents.
In her budget speech, the finance minister said B.C. is thriving, with a balanced budget and a strong credit rating.
“But we will never have a truly prosperous province unless everyone in British Columbia can share in that prosperity,” James said. Often, all it takes to change a person’s life is an opportunity paired with a hand up, she said.
The most obvious hand up for those living in poverty that James’s government included in its latest financial plan is a $50 increase to monthly income and disability assistance rates. The government increased those same rates by $100 two years ago, bringing the total bump in the last three years to $150. Before that, a decade had passed without any increase at all.
Trish Garner, a community organizer with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, called the $50 increase “a drop in the ocean” that still keeps rates “shockingly low.” She said her organization was looking for an increase of at least $200 this year.
The latest increase places income assistance for a single employable person at $760 per month — less than 50 per cent of the poverty line, Garner said. Those on disability assistance will see their rates rise to $1,183. The increases come with a $44-million price tag over three years, according to the fiscal plan.
B.C. is the only province in Canada that does not have a poverty reduction plan, and it also has the highest rate of poverty for children in Canada, according to Shane Simpson, the minister of social development and poverty reduction.
No specific dollar figure for his anticipated poverty plan was included in the budget, but James said the budget did include some initiatives that would form part of the plan. She pointed in particular at a new “child opportunity benefit” that will put as much as $3,400 a year into the hands of parents who are raising children.
Garner said the child benefit gets B.C. caught up to other provinces by extending support for children up to their 18th year and will make “a huge difference.”
Meanwhile, James said more needs to be done to make income and disability assistance more accessible. Included in her budget is $26 million to remove barriers to financial support.
The budget includes $76 million to help put another 200 people in need into modular homes, and organizations that run rent banks will see funding for short-term, low-or-no interest loans to tenants who can’t pay their rent.
The government has said it wants to lift 140,000 people above the poverty line, including half of the 100,000 children who are impoverished, by 2024.
This is the Point is about people with disabilities. But it’s primary purpose is to be honest, not inspirational.
“It’s a question of representation,” Ahuri Theatre’s Dan Watson said.
“You don’t see a lot of representations of people who experience disability. For a lot of people, it’s really great to see that. It’s not inspirational porn; it’s not about being inspiring. It’s trying to show their lives the way they’re experiencing them.
The struggles and triumphs of four people whose lives have been shaped, in part, by cerebral palsy, is at the heart of the show.
A co-production of Ahuri Theatre and The Theatre Centre, This is the Point premiered in 2016. The PuSh Festival run in Vancouver, and an Ontario tour before that, marks its first appearances outside of Toronto.
The show was inspired by Bruno, the eldest child of Watson and his partner Christina Serra. Bruno has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal.
“Christina and I got interested in how we could work with him and other kids or adults like him to offer a different way to express themselves through theatre,” Watson said.
Through working on different projects they met Tony Diamanti, who also has cerebral palsy.
“We invited him to participate in some of our projects but he said, ‘no, I’ve got a script I’ve written about my life, and I’d like you guys to look at it and see if we could work together.’ Liz (MacDougall, Diamanti’s partner) came along to support him. We began sharing stories, and it became less Tony’s story and more about all of our stories.”
The result is a collaboration between Watson, Serra, Diamanti, MacDougall, and director Karin Randoja.
Watson calls This is the Point “a bunch of stories and conversations glued together.”
“We follow the script, but allow ourselves the opportunity to go off or change if something’s happening in the room. We can acknowledge if something happens and move on. It may be the same way with our audience as well. Things are going to happen that you might not expect. And that’s OK.”
Playing versions of themselves, Watson, Serra, Diamanti and MacDougall originally performed the show: Watson and Serra as parents searching for the best way to help their disabled son, Diamanti as a non-verbal adult who nonetheless has plenty to say, and MacDougall (who also has cerebral palsy) as his longtime romantic partner.
A series of staged conversations and theatrical re-enactments dramatize events and conflicts in their lives and opens up the conversation to explore and debate questions around disability. (In the current production Serra, who dropped out before a 2017 remount, is present in pre-recorded video.)
The show comes with trigger warnings, including “violence and simulated sexuality.”
“There are a couple of scenes that can be triggering, especially for the disability community,” Watson said.
“At one point I play Tony’s attendant. After Tony fired him he came back and physically assaulted him (Tony). That can be triggering.”
Another scene involves Diamanti’s first sexual encounter, when a woman at a party gives him acid and sexually assaults him.
The show is frank about sexuality, and includes a scene where Diamanti and MacDougall go to a fetish event.
“Sexuality is a big part of their partnership. They’re sexual beings. People might assume that people who are disabled are not sexual people, and they very much are.”
Reactions to the play from the disability community have been positive, Watson says.
“When we were making the show, I thought, ‘well maybe this is a show for people who haven’t had a lot of experience with disability.’ I still think they can get a lot out of it. But also it’s resonating with people who experience disability directly, and the circle around them, their friends and family, and people they associate with.
“Disability touches so many different people. Chances are, everybody has connections to the disability community it some way.”
Lisa and Patrick Beecroft employ a crack team of specialists at their Port Moody bakery, each seemingly faster and more skilled than the last.
Aaron can perfectly fold dozens of pie boxes in less than two hours, and when they have enough, he is outta there.
“We sell huge, heavy pies, so we need these heavy boxes built fast and properly, and Aaron flies through it,” said sales manager Sarah Breitenbach.
Part-timers Ryan, Chris and Alex come in to scoop and weigh cookie dough, which they do by the hundreds with speed and accuracy.
The key is ultra-short, ultra-intense shifts, that require a special kind of worker.
What is special about the workers at Gabi & Jules Handmade Pies is that these hired guns are people with autism, some of whom are non-verbal.
Seven of their 15 staff have some form of autism. If you think you have an inclusive workplace, just think about that number.
“We also have dishwashers, and you might not think that’s challenging, but we create a huge volume of dishes and they all have to be dealt with in a certain way,” said Breitenbach. “So we get the tunes going and hammer through dishes like you wouldn’t believe.”
Rather than being a drag on productivity, workers who have autism at Gabi & Jules are matched with jobs they can knock out of the park.
“If you are a small business owner in B.C., you know that it’s incredibly challenging to find quality, engaged, loyal staff,” said owner Lisa Beecroft. “We’re very lucky that we’ve found some amazing people over the years that have worked for us, and that is something that’s hard to find.”
Beecroft’s daughter Juliana has autism, so creating opportunity for people like her was the inspiration for the bakery. But Gabi & Jules is also a key cog in a larger empire, supplying baked goods to the Beecrofts’ three Caffe Divano locations.
Lisa is a member of the Presidents Group, made up of about two dozen B.C. business executives committed to creating inclusive workplaces.
It’s a group that also includes heavy hitters such as Vancouver Airport Authority CEO Craig Richmond, B.C. Hydro president Chris O’Riley, and Ledcor president of construction Peter Hrdlitschka, among others.
The Presidents Group held a roundtable last week to share their innovations and successes and to prepare for federal accessibility legislation already working its way through the House of Commons. Their website, accessibleemployers.ca, is a one-stop shop for employers who want to know how it’s done.
YVR knows how it’s done.
Steven Woo was hired full-time as a communications assistant at the airport after a student co-op stint as a community ambassador.
“If you had asked me when I was working on my (undergraduate degree) where I saw myself working, never in a million years would I have said the airport,” he laughed.
But YVR was combing universities for candidates with disabilities, and a chance meeting between Woo and a former instructor who was in the loop opened a door.
Woo is visually impaired and works with an assistance dog, Horatio. To help him do his job, Woo acquired a large-screen monitor and video magnifier from the Neil Squire Society.
He is often the first point of contact for people who reach out to the airport.
“I provide support for our community investment program … our employee giving program and our employee volunteering program,” he said. “I’m the first point of contact for a lot of community members, so a lot of emails come to me first and I handle the community relations phone line as well.”
As a member of the airport’s diversity and employment equity committee, Woo is able to promote his employer’s culture of inclusivity.
But even bigger things are on the horizon. Woo is completing a Masters in Business Administration and has every intention of climbing the career ladder.
The dividends of inclusion extend far beyond good karma.
The Presidents Group maintains there is a strong business case for diversity. Not to mention, there are tens of thousands of people with diverse-abilities ready to solve your skilled labour shortage.
Labour market studies show that diverse workplaces are more likely to meet their financial goals and consumers prefer to engage with companies that show some heart.
Companies that figure out how to help employees with disabilities thrive are six times as likely to innovate and to anticipate change. Your diverse-abled employees also tend to stay longer and have better attendance.
Add it up and the business case is pretty clear.
“This may be one of the last conscious biases that employers have,” said airport CEO Richmond. “When a young person comes through the door and has an obvious disability, you initially will say, ‘This is going to be hard.’ I’m here to say it’s not.”
He’s been paralyzed from the neck down for 50 years and that makes Walt Lawrence either the longest surviving ventilator-dependent quadriplegic in B.C. or darn close to it.
“He’s outlived any statistical, predictive model. He’s off the charts,” says Karen Anzai, a spinal cord program educator G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre, as she looked at a graph on her computer showing expected lifespans of patients who are ventilator-dependent.
“I attribute it to his optimism, his resiliency, his religious faith and his desire to contribute,” says Anzai, a rehabilitation consultant. “Plus, if you noticed his water cup attached to his wheelchair, he’s constantly hydrating himself with water which may reduce any respiratory complications.”
Pneumonia, lung infections and other complications often shorten the lives of individuals who use ventilators, but Lawrence, 67, has defied the statistics by at least 25 years.
He credits medical advances and a wide support system of family, friends, health professionals, non-profit organizations and many others for his vitality and longevity.
As a big-hearted gesture to show his gratitude, he’s invited hundreds of his relatives, friends, health care providers and other supporters to a “Half Century of Thanks” reception in the Tsawwassen Springs ballroom on Sept. 23 where he’ll personally thank them for their helpful words, kind deeds, presence, encouragement, and their faith in him.
“It’s not what I’ve done, it’s what others have enabled me to do. I could fill B.C. Place Stadium with all the people who’ve helped me for the past 50 years,” Lawrence said at G.F. Strong where the married father of two works as a Vancouver Coastal Health peer counselor for others with spinal cord injuries.
Besides explaining everything they need to know about assistive technology and bodily concerns like skin pressure ulcers, and bladder and bowel matters, Lawrence counsels spinal cord injury patients about finding ways to lift themselves out of their “deepest, darkest pits” so they can ultimately lead lives that are productive, even though they will be markedly different than what they planned or hoped for.
“After my accident, when I couldn’t breathe on my own, talk or move, I would have traded my life for absolutely anybody else’s. But here I am now. I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s,” says the always-positive Lawrence.
Lawrence says he had an idyllic childhood in Dawson Creek where he grew up in a close-knit family and hoped for a professional hockey career. It was as a 17-year old with an invincible mindset that he dived into Lake Okanagan one day in August 1968, during a break while on his way to a hockey practice with a junior A league team in Kelowna. It was supposed to be an invigorating, quick dip but he misjudged the water depth and landed badly as he hit the sandy bottom, breaking his neck.
He was in the intensive care unit at Kelowna General Hospital for six months and then he was transferred to Vancouver’s George Pearson Hospital for the Physically Handicapped (as it was then called) where he would spend 16 years, initially on the same ward as polio and tuberculosis patients.
“As a teenager, I had been a fixed-wing pilot, a hockey player with loads of potential. And then, in a split second, I became a quadriplegic with a tracheotomy on a ventilator 24/7. Breathing on your own is NOT highly over-rated,” Lawrence says as he deftly navigates his motorized sip and puff wheelchair.
Lawrence weaned himself off full-time ventilator support years ago; now he’s hooked up to a ventilator only at night in the home he shares with his wife Wendy, a nurse he met while in rehabilitation, and his two daughters, both adopted as babies from China.
Asked what kind of advice he gives newly paralyzed individuals, Lawrence emphasizes the importance of validating their regrets, physical and emotional suffering, and numerous personal fears and challenges.
“It is normal to look back and say ‘if only I had done this or that.’ I remember thinking this after my accident. If only I’d gone straight to the hockey rink, or if only I had taken a different dive in the water. But that doesn’t get us anywhere except trapped in darkness and depression.
“I know how bad it is because I remember I cried enough tears to fill the Pacific Ocean after my accident. My goal is to help individuals see they still have value. No one is a throwaway piece of a puzzle. We all know we are going to die one day but what do we do with our lives while we have them? It is a privilege for me to accompany them as they go through their fragile times.”
Lawrence recalls how, immediately after his accident, he convinced himself that since he was a fit athlete, he’d learn to walk again. But when he got to Pearson and met patients who’d already been there more than a decade, he had a reawakening, telling himself: ‘Oh, this might be permanent.’”
In the 1980s, when Man in Motion Rick Hansen was getting much attention for his relentless advocacy for those with disabilities, Lawrence was agitating for assistive devices, rehabilitation and home care options so that those with paralysis could move out of long-term care facilities into communal-style housing options.
Lawrence’s legacy as a pioneer in the de-institutionalization of those with disabilities has been firmly cemented. Envisioning an independent life, outside long-term care facilities, paved the way for so many others.
“There was a group of five or six of us who believed we didn’t need to live in that kind of environment. We wanted a better quality of life. I know that while I couldn’t care for myself, I could still direct my care,” he says of the first community-based shared-care model, in which therapists would do house calls, attending to the needs of a handful of clients in each visit.
In the early 1980s, the Canadian Paraplegic Association (now called Spinal Cord Injury B.C.) helped with a cost analysis for independent living. Lawrence gives credit to then MLA Doug Mowat, a quadriplegic who has since died, for championing the cause. The idea got a big boost when the study that living in the community instead of the rehabilitation facility would be 30 per cent less expensive, not to mention better for the quality of life of such individuals.
In 1985, that Lawrence moved into a co-op housing cluster called the Creekview Co-operative Apartment near Granville Island. He lived there for many years until he got married.
“Getting into the community enabled us to see that there was much we could contribute to this world. Many of us became advocates on committees, volunteered and worked to change perceptions,” said Lawrence, a Christian who has received numerous awards and distinctions over the years, including an honorary doctor of divinity from the University of B.C. Carey Theological College.
Fifty years after his life-altering injury, Lawrence says he has no plans to slow down, so intent is he in helping others with spinal cord injuries live good and productive lives.
“The former assumption was that because you couldn’t move, you’d have to be looked after your whole life and couldn’t contribute. But in the era of all these assistive devices and technologies, we can now manage much more on our own. We don’t have to be totally dependent on others,” says Lawrence, who counts Vancouver MLA Sam Sullivan as a role model.
Sullivan said he was humbled by that comment and said the respect is mutual.
“What Walt has done is incredible. He’s been such a great leader and accomplished so much. He’s given much of his life being a role model, helping people, showing them how they could figure out how to live full lives even after traumatic injuries.”
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