Advocates say talk about improved accessibility locally needs to happen all year

CEO of Karis Disability Services Janet Noel-Annable (right) and self-advocate Elizabeth McDonough (left) at the Our Voices Matter conference in Waterloo.  (Victoria Gravesande - image credit)
CEO of Karis Disability Services Janet Noel-Annable (right) and self-advocate Elizabeth McDonough (left) at the Our Voices Matter conference in Waterloo. (Victoria Gravesande - image credit)

The need to talk about accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities in Waterloo region needs to happen year-round, local advocates say.

Saturday marks the end of National Accessibility Week, which the federal government says celebrates "the valuable contributions and leadership of persons with disabilities" throughout the country, as well as the work of allies, organizations and communities.

This past week, Karis Disability Services in Kitchener, Ont., hosted the Our Voices Matter conference in Waterloo to mark the week, but also focus on ways to keep people talking.

Janet Noel-Annable is the CEO of Karis, formerly known as Christian Horizons, and has been working with the not-for-profit organization in various roles for 35 years.

"It's our first ever conference, not just for employees and folks that are part of our support team, but also for people who use our services and their families. Everybody is learning," she said.

"We're hoping that it enables us to continue to grow together as we think about our future as a service provider, but also that we raise the profile of some of the really big challenges services for people with disabilities in Ontario face."

During the conference, there were panels to generate conversations surrounding accessibility and inclusion.

Elizabeth McDonough is a disability self-advocate and one of the people who spoke during a panel. She has also worked with Karis for 10 years now and they have helped her secure jobs during that time.

"It's awesome. I present at a lot of different conferences and for me, it's so special getting the word out for everybody to hear," McDonough said.

Self-advocate Elizabeth McDonough, right, speaks on a panel at the Our Voices Matter conference in Waterloo.
Self-advocate Elizabeth McDonough, right, speaks on a panel at the Our Voices Matter conference in Waterloo.

Self-advocate Elizabeth McDonough, right, speaks on a panel at the Our Voices Matter conference in Waterloo. (Victoria Gravesande)

"I'm a part-time wheelchair user and I have braces on my ankles for support. I get told a lot of the time that I can't do certain things that everybody else can like work, but I can. I still walk my dog everyday and I clean Pizza Pizza," she added.

Following the inaugural conference, there are plans for more to come in the future. Noel-Annable says that's because there are many in the province that don't receive the same support.

"Right now in Ontario, there are tens of thousands of people on wait lists, waiting for services. We're really concerned about the lack of funding at a provincial and federal level for people with disabilities," Noel-Annable said.

LISTEN | Advocates talk about need to keep local conversations going about accessibility:

Sense of belonging

In an effort to keep inclusion front of mind, Karis Disability Services is hosting its second annual Belong-a-thon, a fundraising walk happening June 8.

"The idea is that we all come out - people who use our services, other people with disabilities, our team members or family members, friends, supporters in our community. We all get together for a big party to recognize that our communities are best when everybody has a chance to participate, contribute and ultimately, belong," Noel-Annable said.

The walks will be happening in cities across the province, including in Waterloo.