Recently I saw advertised that my city of Kelowna was asking the community for input into the development of a new action plan, a plan to develop a Community for All. As Kelowna also has a goal to be an inclusive community, I thought I would look at this as an opportunity to see just how inclusive it was.
The poster said that the plan was to develop a community for seniors, children and people with diverse abilities. I wondered who these people might be, as there are all manner of diverse abilities – I have musical abilities, where others do not, for example. However, I had a sneaking suspicion that they might mean me, a 40 something year old disabled person.
I contacted the lead on the project and asked who they might be referring to, and I was told people with disabilities, but that people with diverse abilities was a more positive and inclusive term, and it had been decided by their key stakeholders to use that term.
This led me to another question. Who are your key stakeholders? Government representatives, health authority representatives, school district representatives, seniors representatives and two charities for the disabled. Hmmmm. How many disabled people were sat at the table and were included in these key stakeholders! I asked? None. It seems that the concept of nothing about us, without us has not reached Kelowna.
Now we were getting closer to the crux of the matter. I know that people who work with people with developmental disabilities often prefer to use people with diverse abilities, but it really is a euphemism. It goes along with terms like handi-capable, differently abled, physically challenged. All nice words, but paternalistic. It doesn’t cover all people with disabilities, and I have read some strong arguments against it written by people with developmental disabilities themselves. Not one disabled person had been involved in the decision to advertise this action plan throughout the city using the term diverse abilities.
So I asked: what’s the city’s policy on how to form committees with key stakeholders, to make sure that the audience it is directed at is represented? What’s the city’s policy on terms for naming minority groups? Answer: there isn’t one.
This might sound nit-picking and I know that the people behind this project have gone into it with the best intentions. However, if disabled people are not involved in the formation of projects designed for them, if there is no consistency throughout a city in language it uses, in the ways it forms committees and solicits the most accurate views, then money is wasted and projects result in tokenism.
I met with the Mayor to present my concerns. He listened and said he would get back to me. Stay tuned for future updates!