What did resilience mean for our community in 2020?
As we collectively – program participants, employees, Board members and volunteers – navigated through a challenging year in 2020, we have found ourselves stronger for having been together in mutual support. This image represents our community and reflections of our individual experiences, from moments that tested our resolve to occasions when we were reminded that we are not alone.
Click here to read the full quotes
Going as much as you can, with the flow “don’t sweat the small stuff.”Jack
Program Participant /Board Member
Patience and will survive this virus.Paula
Knowing oneself better.Lorne
Asking God to protect me, as I look forward to a new place to live, as well as keeping control of my faculties.June
Member of ConnecTra
Keep on laughing!Shara
Calm, persistence, caring Emphasis on values has shifted – support for those around us is paramount. Let’s look at it together With enough time and patience, there is always a way to make it work Reach out to others and appreciate the experience when others reach out to you.Linda
Program Participant / Board Member
For me resilience the ability to hold on in difficult time and fighting back to regain your stand.Bailey
Remebering that the present isn’t forever. Spend time to cherish the people around you and understand that the bad situations will end eventually.Angela
Resilience to me, means actively finding solutions to problems that one faces and overcoming adversity.Masimba
Taking the extra moment to think about healthy choices and organizing my priorities in this pandemic.Simon
That even through the emotional ups and downs and the light moments and the dark moments of a pandemic, that I am a strong, adaptable, and compassionate being.Joy
That you try your best everyday given your unique circumstances.Sam
Overcoming challenges and adapting.Eric
Overcoming and adapting to any challenges we face.Sean
Responding and adapting to changing circumstances.David
Rising after a fall.Nichole
Back in 2017 our network of seven organizations shared a common vision;
to re-imagine what is possible for people with disabilities.
In our five-year strategic plan, we each set up to reach and help more people with disabilities, to provide support that would enhance quality of life and independence. There were four key strategic priorities that have guided our work since then, and have helped us to maintain the course through rough waters and uncharted territories.
- Enhancing volunteer engagement and community partnerships to deliver programs
- Growing and diversifying our fundraising portfolio and increasing participation and awareness about our cause
- Innovating to break down more barriers through research and development
- Ensuring efficiency and effectiveness through a lean operational financial management system
In this 2020 recap edition of the Discover Newsletter, we want to show you how, even through the midst of a global pandemic, the Disability Foundation and six affiliated societies still managed to fulfill our strategic priorities and aid Canadians with disabilities to lead safe and engaged lives.
Enhancing Volunteer Engagement and Community Partnerships
How COVID-19 Brought a Community Closer Together
The ConnecTra Society prides itself on creating opportunities for people living with physical disabilities by providing information, resources and programming geared towards greater inclusion and quality of life. The Disabled Independent Gardeners Association (DIGA) provides opportunities for people with physical disabilities to actively participate in gardening. These are both things that cannot exist without community.
When the pandemic hit and restrictions hindered us from being able to physically come together, we recognized the urgency in facilitating a way for our community to stay connected. Although DIGA’s community gardens were considered an essential service, we knew that many would not feel comfortable venturing out. Out of this inconvenience, ConnecTogether and GrowABLE were created.
ConnecTogether is ConnecTra’s online programming platform where they offer free classes, workshops, and presentations on everything from smart home technology to mental health. The weekly sessions on meditation, nutrition, chair yoga and adaptive fitness brought together thousands of people throughout 2020, and created several new online volunteer opportunities. The program’s passionate instructors made participants feel stronger, more centered, and more confident about how they are nourishing both their minds and bodies.
“Meeting Megan Williamson has been life changing for me, and the confidence and skills I am developing from her adapted fitness training offerings are helping me with achieving optimal health.”– Weekly Adaptive Fitness Participant, 2020
In an effort to grow gardening knowledge, partner relationships and connections to the disability community, DIGA’s GrowABLE is an online adaptation of their in-person workshops. It aims to build a virtual community garden experience where participants from all over the country can connect and learn together.
“The gardening workshops have been wonderful and better attended online than they ever were in person”– Terry Leblanc, DIGA participant
Majority of the programming is hosted on Zoom and live streamed to Facebook (and now YouTube!), creating further reach and awareness. However, some of ConnecTra’s more personalized courses on mental health, for example, are kept private out of respect and safety for our participants.
“Living Life to the Full was the first step in my mental health recovery. I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of other people’s struggles at this moment in history. It validated a lot of my feelings in some ways, and also made me feel like I was a part of something positive.”– LLTTF Participant, 2020
These programs have given our community the opportunity to share and connect with others in a time when the risk of isolation and depression were higher than ever. This online platform has become a very special place for so many.
“It was an ah ha moment to realize that we all are one and we can learn so much from each other. There was no separation. Here they were facing challenges that I have never had and yet they are not only surviving, they are thriving and inspiring.”– Navigating Transitions Participant, 2020
Another initiative that was prompted by the pandemic is the Accessible Community Forum. The “ACF” was created in an effort to facilitate a safe and inclusive environment in which everybody’s voices can be heard. The first topic in December 2020, Accessible Transportation, brought together panelists from organizations that represent people living with disabilities, as well as city board members and executives with the ability to create real change. Topics in 2021 will include Built Environment, Accessible Recreation, Youth Employment, and Service Delivery. These events are hosted on Zoom and have had over 100 people in attendance.
“Thank you for your efforts in making a difference to advocate and champion an inclusive and accessible world!”– ACF Participant, 2020
2020 was an incredibly tough year for so many of us in so many different ways. Working with a community that can already feel isolated and alone, we recognized the urgency in keeping them connected. The COVID-19 pandemic created a beautiful opportunity for us to come together safely and responsibly from the comfort of our own homes. Our new online programs such as ConnecTogether, GrowABLE and The Accessible Community Forum will continue as we begin to come back together. We now have many new friends to meet in person!
Growing and Diversifying our Fundraising Portfolio
Fundraising to Fuel Pivots and Support Sustainability
As part of our growth mandate, we set our sights on increasing fundraising activity so that we could provide the fuel for new program initiatives, pilot projects, and to increase engagement participation by community members both new and who have known us.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first came upon the world, and like many non-profits, sustainability became one of the top concerns. And like many resilient organizations, we chose to channel our energy into living the promise to support people with disabilities especially in a crisis situation. We are fortunate that government, private foundations, and individual donors share in a commitment to our work, and even a year later we are able to continue to live this promise.
Through seeking organizational partners, the Disability Foundation provided $50 gift card for online groceries provided by SPUD.ca, a local B2B committed to making it easy to access healthy nutrition and provide to-the door delivery in multiple centers across the province. SPUD also offered an additional 10% discount on orders through this gift card program.
With gyms, studios and music venues closed or at best with limited access, BC Mobility Opportunities Society (BCMOS) and Vancouver Adapted Music Society (VAMS) found a way to help keep the community engaged. Ensuring a channel for communications and connection remained in place, through online programming both BCMOS and VAMS have expanded their reach far beyond the Lower Mainland.
BCMOS partnered with Ocean Rehab and Fitness to provide a new, year round, one-on-one virtual adaptive personal training program with Megan Williamson. Every seasonal cohort of 25 participants engage in a three-month program to stay active. And every cohort has been fully booked within days of opening a new intake!
VAMS provided an outlet for musicians to collaborate creatively – and virtually – producing songs that spoke to the unique experience of musicians and artists with disabilities during the pandemic.
It’s new podcast platform, Re-imagine Radio, became a space for music lovers to come together in shared interest and has since expanded to profile artists and also sharing the stories and lived experiences of people with disabilities beyond the music world. Paving they way for sponsorship opportunities, this radio-station-like platform is one of the creative ways VAMS hopes to fundraise in 2021. This summer, Re-imagine Radio is taking its show on the virtual road, visiting with local artists and organizations in Osoyoos, the Okanagan, and Vancouver Island.
Innovating to Break Down More Barriers
Innovative Projects Aim to Break Down Barriers to Youth Employment and Communication with Lawmakers
Driven by the impact COVID-19 has had on the disability community, the Disability Foundation began two major projects in 2020; The Market Research Panel (MRP) and the Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI). Despite the pre-existing barriers that people with disabilities face, the pandemic amplified the information gap between businesses, organizations, and municipalities and their ability to serve the disability community and the research gap in studying attitudinal barriers post-secondary youth experience entering the workforce after schooling. Responding to the community’s feedback on their lived experience, the Disability Foundation partnered with local organizations to help address these gaps.
Empowering Youth with Disabilities to Lead
In 2018, the ConnecTra Society conducted a research project, which brought together 250 job seekers with disabilities and volunteer mentors to set and achieve job search goals. Of these, only 31% successfully secured employment. When asked, attitudinal barriers, such as low self-confidence, apprehensive perceptions of the 9-to-5 structure, and a need for workplace accommodations due to health factors, were cited as their significant barriers. Further confirming these findings, a literature search found that research on these barriers was under-explored specifically for participants in the post-secondary youth with disabilities group.
Given this research gap, the Disability Foundation partnered with Royal Roads University (RRU) in 2020 to start the Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI), a national three-year project led by and for youth with disabilities to further identify and address attitudinal barriers they face in their employment journey. Already, we have hired three young interns to conduct a survey to later engage a national advisory board comprised of youth with lived experience to brainstorm solutions. In the final phase of the project, the interns will create and distribute a multimedia toolkit from what they learn to support youth with disabilities and employers alike in the job-seeking process.
Through the partnership with RRU, our young interns will also have the opportunity to enhance their technical and soft skills through leadership training workshops.
Serena Bains, a YLI Coordinator, expressed that her life has changed since joining the YLI team.
“Previous to being a Youth Leadership Initiative Coordinator, I had a lot of internalized ableism, where I was embarrassed that I was disabled,” says Serena.
She has now become a stronger leader and communicator at the workplace and in the community and “takes greater initiative in everything.”
“Now, I understand that my vulnerability and disabilities are my strength and that I can use my experiences to help members of the disability community.”– Serena Bains, Youth Leadership Initiative Coordinator
Ensuring Your Voices are Heard
In several outreach surveys conducted last year, we gathered that among the many pandemic-related setbacks exposed, access to healthcare and its related services was considered extremely important to respondents. We also found many people were most interested in government assistance programs and grants to aid accessibility. As a result of the survey, we established that no panel consisting solely of people with disabilities exists in British Columbia to help represent the community’s needs.
As a result of a partnership with Justason Market Intelligence (JMI), in 2020 we created the Market Research Panel, now known as DisabilityPanel.ca. Through this, the Disability Foundation sought to bring together people in the disability community, their families, and caregivers and allow them to voice their opinions on pressing matters in a collective, data-driven platform.
“Our aim is to help ensure people with disabilities have a voice to inform policies and practices that are needed for a truly inclusive and accessible society. In order to do this, we saw an opportunity to bridge the communications gap – creating a centralized means and platform for individual voices in the community to be heard, and to be able to provide this feedback directly to decision makers,” stated Ruby Ng, former Executive Director at The Disability Foundation.
Ruby continues, “we are hoping to get 300 respondents to the first survey that JMI is launching for us, which will focus on the COVID-19 service delivery experience for people with disabilities in Vancouver during the pandemic. We are hoping to build a province-wide panel in the future in-order to ensure voices from around B.C. are represented in future surveys.”– Ruby Ng, Former Executive Director at The Disability Foundation
Amplifying the Need for Inclusion
These two innovative initiatives amplify the fight for inclusion by actively engaging and listening to members of the disability community to have their needs recognized and met. The Disability Foundation has always acknowledged the effort of the people contributing to our societies, including those with lived experience. By bridging the communication gap between the vulnerable group and our society through MRP and YLI, we are able to honour individuals’ differences, gain a broader range of perspectives and approaches on different issues, and unite our effort to create a truly diverse and inclusive community.
If you would like to get involved with either of these projects, please visit
Ensuring Efficiency and Effectiveness
A Year of Adapting and Pivoting: 2020 for the Tetra Society and Adaptive Sailing Association of BC
Reflecting on the past year brings to mind the proverb: “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Throughout 2020, each of the societies supported by the Disability Foundation lived this experience in different ways, adapting programs, adding new programs, and implementing processes and protocols to keep clients safe and healthy while ensuring that all of the programs could continue on supporting the 1000s of people with disabilities that connect with the Foundation and its affiliated Societies each year.
Building Gizmos from a Distance
Over the past few years, the Tetra Society of North America has been exploring the possibility of implementing “Virtual Coordinators” across Canada who coordinate projects for people without access to a chapter in their community. The COVID-19 pandemic provided the opportunity to implement this initiative nationally as Tetra’s entire program shifted into the online world. Despite this being a new process, the year has yielded many success stories, from coast to coast, of our volunteers creating, supporting, and guiding clients towards greater community involvement.
Throughout Tetra’s 33-year history, nearly every Tetra device has begun with an in-person meeting. Due to the pandemic, however, since last March every Tetra chapter has been running virtually. Tetra’s volunteers, whose work is all about overcoming challenges, also began brainstorming ways they could connect with clients without meeting them in person.
Despite never having met in person, Dr. Leonard Ly, along with students at Memorial University in Newfoundland, were able to reconfigure a hockey glove for a young boy with Cerebral Palsy. This project enables Carter to be able to play hockey independently. Soon after he started playing, he was named an MVP of the game. Read the CBC news article here.
Check out Carters hockey gloves in action:
Sailing through a Pandemic
The Adaptive Sailing Association of British Columbia (formerly known as the Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia) prepared for the 2020 summer sailing season with a sense of uncertainty, planning for a summer unlike any that had come before in the organization’s 30+ year history.
As the season drew ever closer, ensuring the health and safety of clients, volunteers and staff was top of mind for everyone at ASABC. These changes included limiting the number of sailings to ensure social distancing requirements could be maintained, and a rigorous sanitization and cleaning process was implemented.
ASABC’s COVID-19 program was so successful (no instances of COVID-19 transmission among clients, volunteers, and staff) that others at the Jericho Sailing Centre started following their lead. Laura Joyce, who worked with ASABC in the summer and has returned for another year in 2021 says that, “even in the midst of a pandemic, we were able to provide the freedom and excitement of sailing to our clients. Thanks to our resilient clients and staff, we had yet another successful summer at Jericho.”
This past year has presented so many challenges, more than could ever have anticipated when the pandemic began. The resilient nature of staff, volunteers, clients, and other supporters has enabled us to continue on, supporting people with disabilities to stay connected while remaining physically distant.
This past year has certainly looked far different than any other in our 25 year history…
While the way we operate has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Disability Foundation and our affiliated Societies have remained focused, as always, on supporting people with disabilities to live active, engaged lives.
Your help is absolutely critical to keeping our programs running. We ask that you please consider making a donation to help us continue our important work empowering people with disabilities to Re-Imagine what is Possible.
A huge thanks to our 2020 donors
Thank you for all your support! We couldn’t have done this without you.
Alberta 3D PPE
Alice and Murray Maitland Foundation
Brampton and Caledon Community Foundation
British Columbia Paraplegic Foundation
Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation
Charles H. Ivey Foundation
City of Vancouver Cultural Services
Community Foundation of the North Okanagan
Costen Catbalue Goldsmith and Design
D&B Atkins Charitable Gift Fund
Disability Alliance BC
Engineers and Geoscientists BC
Face the World Foundation
Ford Motor Company
George Lunan Foundation
Google Ad Grants
Harry P. Ward Foundation
HD Supply Brafasco
Jack and Barbara Hay Foundation
Laitin and Smelko Household
London Community Foundation
Mackenzie Investments Charitable Foundation
Martha Lou Henley Charitable Foundation
Minto Foundation Inc.
Murphy’s Law Moonshine
Ottawa Community Foundation
Raymond James Canada Foundation
Region of Peel
Roton Industries Ltd.
Shoppers Drug Mart
Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia (SPARC)
Squamish Community Foundation
Teck Resources Limited
The Christopher Foundation
The Marion Ethel Kamm and Frederick John Kamm Foundation
Thomas Sill Foundation
Toronto Community Foundation
Wawanesa Insurance – British Columbia Branch
Zaatar W Zeit