Supporting the exploration of Citizenship & Disability
This area of Project Citizenship is a collection of photographs, thoughts and short stories from diverse people who care about citizenship and have been willing to share what they think supports it.
How would you define “Engaged Citizenship?
“Engaged citizenship is the coming together of community members to create and promote belonging, inclusion and meaningful connections.”
Why is being an engaged citizen valuable to our community?
“It is important because people are social beings. In a sense, we have to find our tribes. If there is no engaged citizenship within a community you get a situation where everyone is a hermit. You come in and out of the house but you don’t really know your neighbours and in those times of need, there is no one to go to for support. People are always going to need help from each other one way or another. It is those meaningful connections that are going to shine through during those times when you need someone.”
What has contributed to/who has inspired you to work in this field of social service?
“My inspiration definitely comes from the individuals that I have had the pleasure to support over the years. I am lucky to have spent a lot of time working at different agencies and organizations with children and after coming to Skills, I now support adults. With each position and each individual, I have learned something different. The individuals I support keep me going. Every day I look forward to coming into work, brainstorming with awesome like-minded coworkers and doing everything in our power to promote inclusiveness, meaningful connections and supporting people to reach their goals. Being a part of someone’s successes, no matter how big or small will always be one of the coolest feelings in the world.”
How can we make our communities more accessible to with people with disabilities?
“Edmonton could improve its transportation system. DATS serves a purpose, but it is not a well-oiled system. Transportation is a barrier for a lot of the individuals we support. I constantly hear from individuals about missed opportunities because of the lack of transportation. Unfortunately, the combination of our transportation system and the urban sprawl in Edmonton has deteriorated accessibility to a lot of things in the city. Even transportation for people without disabilities can be horrible. I think there also needs to be a drive to create more spaces that are more welcoming for everyone.”
If you could have been told one thing that you were not told when you were a teenager, what would you like to have heard?
“Looking back, I think I heard a lot of things that are pretty relevant now. Something that has kinda stuck with me is that people are always going to be judgemental no matter what situation you are in or what person you are. Someone is going to judge you for something. I think now being an adult I have kinda checked that idea at the door. Definitely, when I was a teenager I would try to impress people or do something that I felt would represent the clique that I belonged in. Now I don’t care. It is up to you to decide how you are going to let other people’s judgements affect you.”
If you had one hour of extra free time, how would you use it?
“I would use it to practice what I preach more. I’m definitely not an active member of my new community. In my old community where I grew up, I knew all my neighbours. We would have bonfires and block parties and everyone would come. There was always a sense of security that I miss having now that I live in my new community. It was like have our own little security system. I would use that extra hour to pursue my interests and engage myself more. I would spend more time with my family, build relationships within my community, and get outside more.”
Emily Brandon is a Coordinator of Community Supports Outreach at Skills Society. She has spent over two years at Skills Society working with individuals that have inspired her to do the work she does. She is passionate about her position and loves horses. Emily currently spends her free time planning her fall wedding, exercising, hanging out with her friends and family, and (of course) watching Netflix.
Ps. She also thinks her family and friends are pretty cool.
What does engaged citizenship mean to you?
“It means to be social with different people throughout the city—being social with friends, co-workers, family and meeting new people.”
If you could call yourself five years ago and only had 30 seconds, what would you say?
“I would tell myself to work on my credit and to try and prevent it from going south. I would also tell myself to try harder to get employed and to get a steady income. Last, I would remind myself to engage, work and socialize with good people while avoiding the negative ones.”
What do you like most about your community and what do you like least?
“I like going to the Abbotsfield Learning Centre. This is where I am furthering my education in reading, writing and math. They also teach computer classes. People who want to get their learner’s permit can take classes there as well. Besides the staff, I think the volunteers there are great!”
“The services provided by ETS (busses and trains) is something I like the least about my community. I am not impressed with the whole concept of dogs being in kennels while they are on trains and busses. In Calgary, there is no kennel requirement for dogs to ride on the busses and trains. They only require the owner to pay the adult fare for the dogs.”
What is something you have recently accomplished that you are proud of?
“I was at the ultrasound with my girlfriend and I found out the gender of my baby!”
What changes do you think can be done to make your community more accessible to people with disabilities?
More busses for Disabled Adult Transit Services (DATS) because the city lacks this big time… I see a lot of people in busses with wheelchairs… As I mentioned earlier, I think it would be more beneficial for the ETS to allow pet owners to public transit with their dog and to simply pay an adult fare for their pet. Dog owners could take their pet on trains and buses and the ETS would profit too… ETS is losing out on millions of dollars by not allowing this. More importantly, it makes it challenging for pet owners [especially those with disabilities] to go to the vet, dog park, airport, an appointment somewhere or simply to meet with other pet owners. I think using the Calgary system would make the community more accessible.
Larry James is a passionate dog owner and a soon-to-be father! Larry looks forward to purchasing his own vehicle and obtaining his class 4 driver’s license from the Abbotsfield Learning Centre. He aims to provide transportation services for pet owners with large dogs. In Larry’s free time he likes to walk his dog Cerberus (an American blue-nose pit bull) and spend quality time with his girlfriend. Larry has been with Skills since June 2013. With the support of Larry’s Community Support Worker, Larry has been able to find the appropriate resources to help him achieve his goals.
What does engage citizenship mean to you?
“Engaged citizenship is a process of reciprocal enrichment connecting a person to a group, a thing or a place.”
How does one become an engaged citizen?
“It’s important to investigate one’s strengths and interests. Once you have a grasp of those strengths and interests, it is then important to actualize them in a manner that will align with like-minded others.”
How can we improve our community and demonstrate what it means to be a good citizen?
“I think you gotta respect the process of identifying areas of interest and ‘sweat the small stuff.’ By ‘sweat the small stuff’ I mean you need to hone your craft and pay attention to the little things—especially if you are starting from scratch. You should always look for ways to meet new people and to collaborate on new projects. There is always opportunity for the small buds of engagement to bloom into rewarding and fulfilling collaborations.”
If you could call yourself five years ago and had 30 seconds, what would you say to yourself?
“Winning lottery numbers!… Get used to knowing less and asking more.”
What do you like the most about your community?
“I live in the Highlands, a mature part of the city. I really appreciate old and preserved things. Some of the old and diverse architecture you see in my neighbourhood is absolutely beautiful. I like how no two houses look the same… You can tell that even though these houses are old they are cherished and incredibly maintained. There is a sense of preservation there and a sense of pride, which is really unique… I like that one house will have a purple door and a yellow chimney. I really love that aspect because it spices up the [community]. It reveals a unique piece of history that [often] may not be identified.”
Chris Bruce is a Manager of Community Supports at Skills Society. He brings a wealth of experience to his work and values the opportunity to lead and support the good works of teams who provide direct support to people with disabilities. Chris can often be found collaborating with others in pursuit of bettering the supports of people with disabilities. You will know that he is truly engaged in a conversation when you see him twisting his beard into a frenzy! Chris loves playing music with friends and spending time with his wife and their two furry children June and Lenny.
What does citizenship mean to you?
Being collectively connected to something!
How do you help people to become better engaged in their community?
I run hockey workshops. Hockey allows youth to learn life skills such as teamwork, leadership, dedication, time management and how to play fair.
How do you think people could be more welcoming to EVERYONE in their communities?
I think learning to respect others people’s opinions, beliefs, and values is a great start to experiencing other communities outside your own.
Community is the foundation of our lives, having a strong relationship with your community will build relationships that benefit both yourself, and others.
This Citizen Speak is brought to you by one of our community allies (Samantha Jackson) who was taking a course on developing Citizenship and Community Connections for people with disabilities through the Excel Academy. Over the course of spring 2014, Samantha set out to explore and document what people in Edmonton think being an engaged citizen means and how we can get better at it.
Lisa participated in the Citizen Action Hall at the U of A and shared her insights and experience as the class explored the intersection of citizenship and disability.