The Mission Self Advocacy Group believes that all people can contribute in meaningful ways to their communities.
And Mission, nestled on a a southern coastal mountain slope, overlooking the lush valley of the mighty Fraser River, is home to a population of 38,000 residents.
One of those residents is Bryce Schaufelberger, who has been a member of the Mission Self Advocacy Group for more than 16 years and is currently their Vice-President.
The members of this group are people with intellectual disabilities, and they advocate for their rights on such things as income assistance, housing, employment, and access to community services.
Mission Hall of Famer, Schaufelberger, is an accomplished soccer player who has represented the region, province and the country on many levels with Special Olympics. Schaufelberger has been playing the sport for more than 20 years and holds numerous silver and gold medals from national championships. He also won a gold in Shanghai, China in 2007 and a bronze in Athens, Greece in 2011 during the Special Olympics World Games.
Needless to say, he is the gold standard for bridging the gap between ‘us’ and community by promoting awareness and inclusion.
Bryce talked about how his group has worked on transportation issues for people with disabilities.
“We came up [with a] plan and we asked our group members what they wanted say about issues like transit bus ramps, sudden changes in schedules, rude bus drivers and other complaints about the system. We then had a meeting with our Mayor Ted Adlem who invited our group to City Hall to discuss our concerns with him and city council. In the end, they said they could not help us with that and we had to go to the province or the federal government with our concerns.”
The group did succeed in having a shelter put up at a much used bus stop so people would not be getting wet in the rain.
Schaufelberger works for the HOMES Society in Abbotsford, a group that organizes supportive housing for people with disabilities or mental health issues. HOMES Society clients, those with labels such as, “most challenging” or the “most difficult to place”, thrive not when surrounded by highly trained staff, but by a small stable, loving family.
HOMES Society states that when the playing field is levelled and we seek companionship instead of control, when caregivers and those in care are encouraged and mentored to show warmth and love, an amazing thing happens, starting with relationships.
Schaufelberger said that the efforts of self-advocates have been critical to drawing the attention of the public, the media and political representatives in areas such as supported housing.
“We may not have money that powers a message, but we are stakeholders in it.”
Schaufelberger talked about the challenges in trying to make life better for the people he and his group are helping.
“I feel the need to have a good income and be able to do things others do who do not have a disability,” he said. “We are sometimes the last to know anything on what is going on with issues that affect us. If we do not understand the issues, because we are excluded from the conversations, or tuned out by other stakeholders, this is a real challenge for us.”
That is why the goal of the Mission Self-Advocacy Group is to educate the public about their disabilities and the right to be treated with respect and dignity and be a valued participant in the community. Meeting, sharing stories and learning about the issues that affect them make the members better mentors and promotes leadership among the group.
“We support people with disabilities to speak up for themselves and for others. We encourage people to learn about their rights and how to voice their concerns.”
Schaufelberger said so before the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in 2011.
“Self-advocates need services to help us with everyday things like budgeting, working, having employment and living independently. We can have our own houses, places to live. And going to social events with our friends and whoever is there.
These help me to be included in community, keep me healthy and having a good life — right? — like anybody would like. It is important to have these services that work for me. We want to be consulted on what these services are, because we don’t get that often. We’re the last ones to know anything about this stuff, and it really hurts us. This is not happening. It never has like what it should be.
Choices are so important. If we only fund crises, people don’t have choices and opportunities to achieve their goals and dreams. We have the right to equality. We don’t want a handout. We have the right to receive these services. We just want the services to be there for us when we’re in trouble or we need some sort of help.
Schooling is expensive. Rent is expensive. Food is costly. Tax doesn’t help us. I can go on. But it does not help us anywhere because we’re already at a disadvantage.
I’m very scared of what’s going to happen in the future with all this happening. We need this investment — and immediately. There’s Maple Ridge recycling program getting cut. Those people worked butts off to earn a living. You know what it’s like to live on disability. They enjoyed their work. They never argue with employers. They enjoy what they get.
We’re not taking advantage. We want to contribute to society. We don’t want to be put away anywhere. We need to be in community. That’s what everybody wants, and so do we — to be included in all this stuff, and including where the money goes so that things will work better. Without us, it doesn’t work.”
The Mission Self-Advocacy Group want to teach, to grow, to make friends, to be included, to share, to be respected and to live.
“We are always searching for new advocates to join our group,” said Schaufelberger. “We are made up of people with diversibilities and we meet every third Tuesday every month at the Mission Association for Community Living board room except for July, August and December. We have fundraisers like pub night, dances, and we are also looking for new sponsors to help our group and website.”
We believe that there is power in numbers. If we stand together our voice is stronger making the public more aware of our presence and purpose.
To learn more about the Mission Self-Advocates, go to their website http://missionlsalocals.wordpress.com/
or contact President Bryce Schaufelberger
Dan Catarig Vice President
Tel: (604) 621-4447 (Cell)