The Self Advocates of Semiahmoo

Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) staff members work hard to achieve the organization’s End (mission), that “people with disabilities live self-directed lives in the community.” We work hard to support people finding jobs, recreational opportunities, and homes in their local community. This work largely involves SHS contacting local businesses, recreational centres, and home owners/renters to see if they are open to having people who have disabilities as employees, participants, or home sharers. Many are, and they help make our community diverse and strong.

In the work that SHS does, we are not unlike many other Community Living organizations, seeking community-minded businesses and people who buy into our vision of inclusion. However, in the vast majority of the work that we do promoting inclusion, the people we support are the “outsider” we are helping to become part of the community.  In this relationship, the power inherently lies with the people choosing whether or not someone belongs at a workplace, in a gym, in their home. I’ve recently been thinking about how we might turn the power in this relationship around. How can we support people who have disabilities to have more power when it comes to employment, social issues, and housing?

When it comes to employment, having people with disabilities in ownership and leadership positions shifts the dominant paradigm of their “place” at work. While not common, there are some examples that have demonstrated the positives that come from this model. Tim’s Place, a restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is owned by Tim Harris, a man who happens to have Down syndrome. Billed as the “World’s Friendliest Restaurant,” Tim’s Place provides members of the community with jobs and good food. Closer to home, Richmond HandyCrew Cooperative is owned by workers who have developmental disabilities. They make the decisions and share in the profits of their work and hire members of the community to work with and for them.  Both of these examples show people who have disabilities making their community stronger by running businesses that provide services and add to the local economy.

When one looks at the history of civil rights around the world, movements take off when the people most affected lead the fight for their own rights. The Self Advocates of Semiahmoo (SAS) promote the rights of people who have disabilities through advocacy, education, and action. At present they are spreading the word about voting to the people of British Columbia through workshops and presentations. SAS is also an asset to the community as they work on projects that make the world better for all people. A recent example of this is their work making local beaches more accessible by fundraising for beach wheelchairs and working with local governments and business to ensure these beach wheelchairs are available for all local citizens who have mobility issues. SAS holds a position of strength in the community through giving a voice to people who have disabilities and for leading initiatives that make their whole community better.

There are many barriers to finding quality affordable housing in Greater Vancouver for the general population. There are even more barriers for people who have disabilities who are looking for the same thing. Chorus, the affordable and inclusive rental apartment building that SHS build in partnership with The Semiahmoo Foundation (TSF) and Peninsula Estates Housing Society (PEHS), is the first purpose built affordable rental apartment built in decades in Surrey. The fact that it was built because of housing needs of people who have disabilities but supplies much needed housing for the general community gives social strength to the tenants who have disabilities. The tenants now have a place to call home and are in a position of giving back by welcoming friends and family into their apartments.

A few years ago, as part of the collaborative process to renew SHS’s philosophy statement, I conducted some workshops with people we support to find out what ideas we should include in the statement. Invariably, in the many groups of people that I consulted with, the idea that people with disabilities have a right and a desire to give back to their communities was strongly expressed.  In retrospect, this should not be surprising as one of the tenets of good relationships is reciprocity. Imagine always being in the position of having to accept the help of others. Imagine not having the right to give back. Imagine not being expected to give back. We included the idea of “giving back” in our philosophy statement and we strive to support people to give back and to take leadership roles in their community. In employment, social issues, and housing, when all people have the right to give back and are supported to do so, our community is stronger.

Semiahmoo House Society’s Philosophy Statement

 Semiahmoo House Society believes that people who have disabilities should be valued and included fully in their communities, with the same rights and responsibilities as all people living in Canada.

We believe that all people have the right to control their own lives through personal choices about relationships, jobs, living arrangements, spirituality, travelling, and recreational activities, and that all people have the right to give back to their communities through volunteering and helping others. Everyone is entitled to live a happy, full and meaningful life.

We also believe that these rights can be reinforced and protected by making sure that people are connected to and supported by friends, family, staff, and the community.

By Doug Tennant, Executive Director, Semiahmoo House Society

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.

Leave a Reply