Guest post: Okanagan Self-Advocate Group

Linda and Kyle Youmans from the Okanagan Self-Advocate Group are guest writers on our blog today to share the amazing work that they do for our community!

A woman with long blonde hair and a taller man with short black hair stand on either side of a vertical banner for the Oakanagan Self-Advocate Group. It reads: Oakanagan Self-Advocate Group. Free programs. Everyone welcome. Gain knowledge and skills. Build Friendships and empower your voice. Diversability awareness, acceptance, and education.

Okanagan Self-Advocate Group 

The Okanagan Self-Advocate Group started in March of 2018 after Darryl Harand, the Founder, asked Linda Youmans, who was sitting on the South Central Okanagan Community Council with him, to be the Advisor for the group.  She and Darryl had known each other due to her work at the Kelowna Library. Funding for publicity and programming is kindly given by the Council which is part of CLBC in Kelowna.  Currently there are 41 active members of the group. All members are adults over the age of 19 who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other diversabilities. Parents or support workers may attend as well. The group meets the last Saturday of each month from 1-2:30 p.m. either online (Zoom) or in-person (before COVID restrictions) at PATHWAYS in Rutland. 

The goals of our group are to: empower members by sharing ideas and build friendships; present information on different topics of interest to keep members better informed in order to make better life decisions; and to increase awareness about living with a diversability (disability).  We had hoped to visit school children in the Okanagan, however our proposal was turned down.  Instead, we decided to concentrate our efforts on helping those with ASD or other diversabilities (disabilities) through inviting experts in their fields to do amazing presentations on life skill-type topics. Our two most popular presenters covered “Anxiety: A Common Barrier to Social Inclusion” by posAbilities with 25 people attending; and “Finding the Best Job for You!” by Thompson Community Services with 20 participants.  Other workshops had between 15-17 attending.    The group has impacted the community because there are no other free programs like ours provided in Kelowna and surrounding areas. When COVID -19 started, we had to put the group into hiatus for 2 years. However, rather than cancel again in 2022, we decided to do the presentations by ZOOM.  

Upcoming ZOOM events in 2022 will be: 


February 26


The Social Skills of Sexuality


with Joanne Poole, Registered Nurse and Okanagan College Instructor

March 26


How to Stretch Your Budget and Save!


with Denise Martell, Marketing Director, World Financial Group (WFG) 

April 30

Become A Great Self-Advocate!

with Shelley DeCoste, Strategic Initiatives Advisor, CLBC and Self-Advocate Extraordinaire!

May 28

Loneliness, Depression and Anger Management

with Alysha Donko, Clinical Supervisor, posAbilities, Laurel Support Services 

June 25

Job Employment Help

with Jacob May, Employer and Community Coordinator, Kelowna WorkBC Centre 

September 24

Raise Your Energy with Breath and Relaxation

with Danielle Dufour, Life Force Experiential Activities 

October 29


Anxiety: A Common Barrier to Social Inclusion


with Becky Molly, Clinical Director, Pacific Coast Community Resources Inc. 

November 26

Clearing the Clutter!

with Corey Anderson, Owner and Manager, Organize My Space Kelowna 

All programs are FREE but require registration so that ZOOM links can be sent by email to each personAll adults with Autism or other diversabilities across the province of British Columbia are invited to attend our FREE sessions. 

To register or for more information contact: 

Linda Youmans, Okanagan Self-Advocate Group Advisor
Phone: 1 (778) 478-3436 

DIVERSABILITY Resource Booklists and Service Provider Lists

While working as the Youth Collections/System Librarian for the Okanagan Regional Library, I was asked to be the Kelowna Community Liaison for the Learning Disability Association of British Columbia. Having a son with autism, I was chosen by the CEO of the Okanagan Regional Library as she felt I had experience in this area.  In this role, one of my tasks was to create a Service Provider list for their website.  I expanded the coverage to include diversabilities as well as learning disabilities and to cover all of the library communities from Golden to Princeton.  The topics or areas of services chosen are:  adaptive functioning psychoeducational assessment; behaviour intervention; counselling; education; employment assistance; family support; financial future/ support; funding or referrals; recreational programs; transitioning to adulthood; and tutoring.  I particularly chose businesses who catered to children and teens with diversabilities.   

As the Youth Collections/System Librarian, I often got suggestions for purchase or requests from parents on good books to read to their families about diversabilities.  I decided to create two extensive booklists – one for children and one for teens (grade 7-12) and while doing so, I found that our collection was lacking and outdated in these areas. In my job, I was able to increase the number of books substantially. The topics covered in the children’s and teen Diversability Resource List brochures are: anxiety/worry; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD & ADD); Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); Cerebral Palsy / Muscular Dystrophy; depression / sadness; Down Syndrome; Dyslexia; Hard of Hearing or Deaf; Mobility Challenges; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD); Sensory Processing Disorder; and Vision (Blind or Partially Sighted).  I put in the related topics, such as depression, anxiety, sensory processing disorder, etc. which affect many people with diversabilities. All three lists took me 3 years to complete as I wanted to ensure that the information was correct and current. Each service provider was contacted and sent their contact information for review before creation of the booklets. 

The Resource lists are for families and professionals working with children and teens with diversabilities.  Having the lived experience with a son with autism, I wanted to give back to the community to help others. Many parents and professionals have thanked me for the lists.  Parents have said that they can’t believe anyone would want to help them and their families! The Service Provider Resource list can be found online on the Okanagan Regional Library website here: Service Provider Resource List.  The two booklists can be found here: Diversabilities Book Lists.  All books have been directly linked to the online catalogue so that library users can order them in right away.  I read all of the over 200 books to ensure good quality. Paper brochures are also available in each library branch.  I am happy to report that the circulation of this updated collection has been very high.  So it has definitely filled a need which was lacking. 

All three lists are being currently used by all 29 ORL library branches, Interior Health, Work B.C., Physicians of B.C. website, School Districts across B.C., the LDABC website, MCF CYSN in Victoria, Inclusion B.C., over 60 service providers, and many others. Interior Health asked for a template of the booklet form for all three lists and is currently printing them for all clients and staff in the entire Okanagan. The lists were also sent across Canada to each public library to encourage them to create ones for their community.  Even Autism Connections Fredericton in Fredericton, New Brunswick have them on their website for parents!  

One outstanding project which came out of this was the Diversability Workshop which I created in 2019.  It had the highest rating and the greatest attendance of any library workshop in 80 years!  77 staff from 29 library branches attended.  I hired a wide range of fantastic guest speakers on these topics:  Sensory Processing Challenges; Autism / Sensory Storytimes; ASL (American Sign Language) Storytimes; Book Club for adults with diversabilities and an amazing panel of 3 guest speakers with diversabilities who spoke about the challenges and successes in their lives.  The panel was the most impactful and drew applause, a standing ovation and many tears from the audience.  The goal of the workshop was to empower the staff to understand what it is like to live with a diversability and to learn how to be more inclusive and compassionate. This goal was exceeded! 

Both the resource lists and the workshops were created to help people with diversabilities and staff and professionals who work with them.  I believe it has made a huge difference.  I received the Leader of the Year Award in 2019 for this important work.  I was very humbled and thrilled to win the award!  These projects have been the most rewarding and the biggest in my 36 year career and I am so grateful to have been able to do them for all those wonderful families and professionals. 

Our approach to advocacy is guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which recognizes the full citizenship and human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Kerridan Dougan, Advocate

Support Our Work, Empower Everyone.

Together, we can break down barriers and create an inclusive world for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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