New Possibilities for Community Living

Image shows a poem in black, green and blue text on a light-blue background. Text reads: The colours for Community Living Huntsville are green and blue. Green means go! Go be independent. Go be yourself. Go get a job. Go into the community. Go have fun. Blue reminds me of blue sky, happiness and peace. Happy Community Living Month. By Linda McEachern.Things are different for us at Community Living Huntsville these days.

At a time when we usually gather as a community to celebrate Community Living Month at Huntsville’s Town Hall, our event did not happen. There were no hugs from old friends, no group photos, and no cake.

Every year we celebrate Community Living Month in May with our annual flag raising. Along with other organizations like Community Living Ontario, we decided to postpone the event until September for the safety of the community.

Community Living Month is a province-wide event that celebrates inclusion in our communities and inspires all to do more. This month recognizes the diverse experiences of people who live with a developmental disability. It’s also a time where we raise awareness about what we can do to make our community a place of belonging for everyone.

It’s difficult not to feel down about COVID-19 and the restrictions in place. Many of us feel isolated and frustrated because we’re unable to visit places or attend events we enjoy.

Prior to the pandemic, this isolation was already a reality for many of the people we support at Community Living Huntsville. For some, they also live with medical complexities that require assistive devices or comprehensive medical support. Accessibility can often be an afterthought, or not a thought at all, which means people who live with developmental disabilities regularly miss out on things they want to enjoy too.

Accessibility requires more than simply providing a ramp so people can enter a building, though this is still important. Accessibility is about removing barriers to places, housing, education, social interactions, and well-being so everyone has the supports they need to participate and feel welcomed.

What does this look like for Muskoka and Canada?

On a local level, it’s having posters about store hours that are easy to read and found at an accessible height. Providing public transportation to sidewalks that are properly maintained in every type of weather. Offering wheelchair mats so people with mobility devices can go to the beach without struggling in the sand.

It’s about sharing information in multiple formats to ensure everyone can access it, such as Braille directions on handrails and accessible websites. It’s also being thoughtful about design for people who live on the autism spectrum and are hypersensitive to bright lights, loud sounds, and crowded spaces.

On a bigger scale, accessibility is about changing the statistic where 60% of working age adults with disabilities are unemployed or excluded from the labour market. It’s about having housing that is affordable, stable, and safe so 100,000 people who live with developmental disabilities will no longer live in vulnerable situations. We encourage you to read our housing series by our team member Christopher Jordan-Stevens, who shares why accessible housing is necessary for our community.

It’s about knowing that disability is intersectional across gender identity, race, sexual orientation, religion, age, and economic status – and being conscious of how disability looks different for everyone. This is the difference between assuming disability is an isolated category and recognizing that people’s lives are complex and extend far beyond labels.

It’s learning how the rates of abuse and violence against people who live with a disability are the highest compared to any other group in Canada. Or how one-third of Indigenous people in Canada live with a disability. Or that people who live with a disability are nearly twice as likely to experience poverty as people without disabilities. These statistics reflect a harsh reality but we are hopeful it can change – and will change.

Our community has done an incredible job of pivoting to meet the unexpected changes by the pandemic. In these last six months, we’ve watched our community rally together to work through challenges, adapt to new realities, but most importantly – support each other.

So, for this year, we’re celebrating new possibilities. We’re honouring the resiliency of the people we support and our dedicated team of developmental services workers and staff. We’re embracing the spirit of innovation that guides us as an organization, a community, and a disability rights movement. We’re moving forward with our dream for a world where everyone feels a sense of belonging and is surrounded with care and love.

We hope you’ll join us.

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