A Gold Standard Advocacy Group

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An advocacy group that collaborates on concerns that affect a broader community can achieve changes like the implementation of a Calgary Transit low income bus pass, AISH increases, or reversals of bylaws that discriminate against the needs of people with disabilities. 

The Disability Action Hall has set the gold standard for advocacy groups. They are a group of people living with disabilities who are committed to advocating for change on a social level. Although disability is at the center, they advocate for the intersectional identities of people with disabilities such as the rights of BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S +. With a holistic lens that looks at everyone’s multiple identities alongside employment, social justice, housing, AISH, and other barriers that may affect a person’s quality of life, the Hall collaborates and comes up with solutions. 

The Hall members speak highly of the group, often calling it a safe space that brings people with disabilities together to discuss personal and social issues. They all focus on the importance of collaboration when speaking on the group dynamic. Anyone with a disability is invited to the table regardless of  how involved they are with the disability community in comparison to another member. Each member is viewed as their own person, and one member specifically likes how space is held for them no matter how they show up on a day to day basis. Even from only having met with the group on two occasions, their sense of community and ability to uplift each other is evident. 

This advocacy group is not staff led but instead led by advocates, community members and allies. They often invite students who may be on a social work or psychology practicum to join meetings. Professionals in the social work field have also joined to learn from the group’s conversations and solutions. There really isn’t any limit to what group members can discuss in their weekly meetings ; everyone at the table is welcome to bring up a concern or a matter of celebration. The Hall has been running since 1998.

“We are trying to get to the leaders of tomorrow to make change.”

Since Alberta Employment First Network remains heavily focused on the employment outcomes of people with disabilities, the Hall members were asked “what does meaningful employment mean to you?”. Each member touched on workplace policies and attitudes that encompass what it means to have inclusive employment. To them it means – getting compensated fairly, learning new skills, having accessibility options, and most importantly having lived experience matter just as much, if not more, than traditional employment qualifications like work experience or education. The question of meaningful employment was asked because every job seeker deserves a baseline of inclusivity but a high quality of work needs to be meaningful, and is specific to a person’s needs and desires. Meaningful employment can look like : 

  • Finding passionate work 
  • Allowing for opportunities for growth 
  • Finding happiness and fulfillment in employment 
  • Being appreciated for abilities vs being discriminated for a disability 
  • Receiving the opportunity to have open minded and productive conversations with an employer about career growth 
  • Having an employer who can mold management styles to what a person needs

A key piece of meaningful and inclusive employment is the presence of good support. Support can be formal or informal, but would come from both leadership and colleagues in the workplace. Hall members spoke about good support intertwined with meaningful job placement, implying that the two go hand in hand. If a person with a disability reaches out to a service provider, they would also require good support. According to a Hall member, a supportive service provider would curate processes to a person’s own needs versus assuming that they would require the same process as someone else with a similar disability. They prefer being offered the space to advocate for themselves instead of being talked over by both an employer or servicer provider. The other components of good support are benefits to every employee – attentive managers, accessible work culture, inclusive language, and being able to ask for help. Because support can be formal or informal, HR policies in place for inclusive employment stand as a formal support and a work culture that encourages open communication, collaboration and flexibility is an informal support that affects an employee on a daily basis. 

If you’re around the Calgary area and looking out for the Disability Action Hall, the members attend and plan events such as Queerly Disabled or Speak Out, and they show up at Calgary Pride in September. Bow Valley students may have recently heard them speak at a presentation on disability and wellness. You can join them in making change by writing letters to government, rallying and by supporting their media and creative art campaigns. The Disability Action Hall is non-partisan. 

Check out the Disability Action Hall website here.

Author: Mariebelle Sawma

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