This year, SAIPA celebrates 30 years of service to the community. While those services have changed over time, the voices of people with disabilities have always mattered to us. Today, we teach people about importance of self-advocacy, individual rights and the freedom to choose.
We know it can be a challenge for people with disabilities practice this in their own lives. This is why we make it our mission to “inspire people with developmental disabilities to drive change in their communities as engaged and empowered citizens.”
That is often easy to say, and harder to do. Ideas people have about those with disabilities, and the control of people in power can stop people from having the quality of life they want or deserve. While we do our best to teach and inspire advocates, in the end, know that sometimes, people with disabilities do not get to have their voices heard. We know that people with disabilities may be living their lives based on someone else’s rules or decisions. For an organization like ours, this can be discouraging.
However, the April 1st announcement from Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir to “repeal the PDD Safety Standards Regulation in its entirety” meant a lot to us. This decision brought our mission to life as self-advocates’ powerful message about rights, equality and inclusion made a big difference.
Since learning about the Safety Standards, SAIPA has been on an interesting journey with self-advocates. First, we knew it was our job to help self-advocates understand what these standards would mean for them and their homes. We held meetings with advocates to help them understand the standards. While advocates agreed with some safety measures, many felt the standards were unfair.
We encouraged advocates to write letters to then Conservative Human Services Minister Heather Klimchuk, where people explained their questions, concerns and solutions that might work. People wondered: why did the standards only apply to some people funded by PDD? Who would pay for the home inspections? And, why were the homes of people with disabilities any different than those without disabilities?
The information from these letters were used in a community discussion that included self-advocates, employees from PDD, Public Health as well as the Environmental Public Health Inspector and Administrator for the south zone. Each person got a chance to make a presentation before the whole group was allowed to ask questions and give answers.
Not long after this, we found out service providers, families and advocates across the province had the same concerns. Self-advocates met with MLAs in the south region to talk about the standards and their concerns. Advocates never stopped making their voices heard, even when things didn’t seem to be changing.
When the new NDP government announced last fall that it would start a province-wide conversation about the safety standards, we were excited. As soon as the dates for each community were announced this past February, we told as many people as possible. SAIPA used the plain language guides offered by the government to help between 30 and 40 self-advocates fill out the online questionnaire. We also used these guides to get opinions from another 200 self-advocates over two weeks. We did this through focus groups, during regular SRSAN meetings, and as part of presentations to two local organizations. During this time, advocates told us the safety standards weren’t working, that they were took away people’s rights, and that advocates wanted the chance to learn how to be safe, instead of having people tell them how to be safe. People were interested in learning first aid, and becoming “safety experts” in their own homes.
During the community discussion in Lethbridge March 7, 116 self-advocates, service providers and community members provided information on their safety concerns and what could be done better. Like many things we are a part of, it is hard to know how what will happen with the opinions and ideas we submit.
When we learned that Minister Sabir had accepted all of the consultation team’s recommendations, including a total repeal of the safety standards regulation, we were thrilled. After more than a year of advocating, people with disabilities were finally heard. Many advocates care deeply about safety; they just wanted to be a part of the conversation. These consultations allow them that dignity and right.
We are so proud to witness the power of advocacy in our community and across the province; it is a true example of the wonderful things that can happen when advocates are educated, informed and included in all aspects of life, most especially their own.
SAIPA wishes to extend its sincere thanks to:
- Minister Sabir for listening to self-advocates and allowing for continued, meaningful consultation.
- The consultation team for taking the time and care to listen to more than 2,000 voices across the province, and writing a report that reflects those voices.
- The MANY self-advocates, service providers and community members who were brave enough to speak up about their concerns, questions and suggestions. Your leadership and courage is a shining example of the meaningful change that can happen when the community comes together to support one another.
We look forward to being a part of phase two of consultations in May. Until then, advocates should enjoy this victory! Well done!
The SAIPA Team