The Inclusion BC team arrived in a taxi to a complex that looks like many other market-rate condo buildings built in the last 10 years: modern-looking, minimal, colourful units with back balconies accented by simple landscaping. We entered a multi-purpose gathering space with a kitchen, stacks of chairs and tables, and a few people drinking coffee and chatting, preparing for the Open House we were co-hosting with the Nanaimo Association for Community Living (NACL), who owns and operates this complex, and SPARC BC, a social policy research organization. Residents of the complex, some of whom have intellectual or developmental disabilities, started curiously poking their heads in to ask what we were up to or what time the event would be starting, while others mingled outside in the sun, seemingly trying to decide whether to come in or not.
Inclusion BC believes in people with intellectual and developmental disabilities having choice and control over the supports and services they need to flourish in community. We wanted to learn directly from people in Nanaimo about whether this has been their experience. We wanted to know how they feel their communities are doing in terms of providing access to affordable housing opportunities and hear their insights into what needs to change for them to get the support they need to thrive.
We heard powerful stories that spoke to the impact of some significant strides in inclusive housing, and many that reminded us how much work still needs to be done. Guests shared their vision of people with disabilities in leadership roles, the importance of opportunities to get to know their neighbours, and the significance of being close to amenities and services like grocery stores, community centres, healthcare facilities, and green spaces. People talked about wanting to live in places that reflect their communities, with a diversity of income, age, culture, and ability. “Just because I have autism,” said one person, “doesn’t mean I should only live with other autistic people.”
We heard many accounts of transit accessibility being a barrier to a fulfilled life in community: bus drivers refusing to support wheelchair users, people being told that they belonged on HandyDART rather than on a public bus, and busses regularly being late or not showing up at all, causing people to miss crucial appointments or be late for work. As one guest put it, “I never know how I’m going to be treated on a daily basis.”
The Open House in Nanaimo was part of a Community Engagement and Partnership Mapping campaign by Inclusion BC to map local data on housing demands for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to recognize community leaders as experts by working with communities across BC. Each community is collecting stories in their own way and is supported by local working groups. The feedback we have gathered will be combined with community-level housing data to create local reports and shared at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in September.
Most importantly, this conversation went far beyond the practical considerations of door sizes or the height of kitchen counters. This was a discussion about what it means to live an empowered, equitable, and dignified life. We are committed to continuing the conversation about inclusive housing through community engagement opportunities like this and bringing our findings to bear in our advocacy.
Are you a person with a disability or a family member wanting support with seeking inclusive housing? The Key To Home Handbook has tools for getting started.
Are you looking for support with talking to your local government about the need for inclusive housing? This Guide for Presentations can help you advocate!
Photographed by Galen Exo
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