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Sandra Richardson: The world of diverse abilities is full of power and beauty

This month, we’re celebrating the strength and potential of all abilities to propel our community forward.
Sandra Richardson is CEO of the Victoria Foundation. VICTORIA FOUNDATION

I remember a group of children who were interviewed by reporters at an event held in 2012 at the Pacific Institute of Sport Excellence. The children were demonstrating to the then-lieutenant-governor of B.C. some of the sports skills they’d learned in a pilot for the ABCs of Physical Literacy program.

One child had Down syndrome, and a reporter asked the young group how they made him feel part of the team. The kids answered with something akin to: “What do you mean? He’s already part of the team. He’s one of us!”

That moment stuck with me — the idea that these children, in their innocence, did not see difference; that they accepted every player as important to their group. I wonder how positive life would be for everyone, especially those with diverse abilities, if grown-ups inherently took the same mindset.

March 21 was World Down Syndrome Day, and I’d like to recognize all our wonderful partners who are empowering our Down syndrome community. Non-profits like the invaluable Greater Victoria Down Syndrome Society offer myriad resources for individuals and their families to enjoy life to the fullest.

But I also want to broaden my scope to recognize all differing abilities this month.

This world of difference is full of might and beauty — these are humans with huge capacity to love, to work, to care for others, to be creative, and to impact the world forever, just like our able-bodied community. I’m grateful to live in a region working to embrace everyone, and to see difference as a vibrant strength.

The grassroots Victoria Disability Resource Centre, for example, is run by people who have been bravely challenging the way we perceive ability since 1990. We also have CanAssist at the University of Victoria, diligently bringing innovative assistive technologies and services to the region.

I’m also heartened by local businesses consciously hiring this diversity, including a cafe called A Kinder Cup, in View Royal. It’s a compassionate business that’s “brewing up belonging” with every coffee. We hire people of diverse abilities right here at the Foundation, too.

People of difference are everywhere, and they’re a crucial part of what makes our region so vibrant, caring and successful. With that said, communities continue to push for better support.

Our Vital Signs 2023 survey shows that about 30 per cent of Greater Victorians with possible varying abilities feel at times uncomfortable because of the challenges of their surroundings.

Andrea Carey is the valiant executive director of OneAbility, a network of organizations working to improve sports opportunities. She says that while our region has some good services, many areas must improve — and it starts with involving our diverse community directly.

“They are the voice we need involved,” says Andrea. “We need to be intentional about including people with disabilities in our thinking, planning and delivery of programs, services, and infrastructure to ensure that we are planning for barrier-free experiences.”

So, I invite you to consider how diverse abilities impact your life, how they enhance it and bring joy, and how your time, talent or treasure can impact their lives with immeasurable opportunities.

Together, we can learn to value each other as integral members of a team, no questions asked, just like those wonderful children interviewed over a decade ago.

Sandra Richardson is CEO of the Victoria Foundation.

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