Measuring worth of our society

Richard Niesman (centre) and the rest of the crew sort bottles and cans at the recycling depot Monday.

Editor, The News:

Re: Funding reinstated for jobs program (The News, Sept. 14).

Carla Thiesen, the Fraser Region’s director of operations for the Community Living Association of B.C., is axing a 20-year-old program that has people with disabilities working at the recycling depot under the supervision of support workers.

Ms. Thiesen wants these disabled people to get “real jobs with real pay.”

In British Columbia, we support our disabled people fairly well while they are still in the public education system. We give them one extra year of high school and then they graduate.

Right when most parents are celebrating the beginning of a new, independent phase in the lives of their children, the parents of disabled people face the opposite situation. They have a 19-year-old on their hands with no prospect for a “real job with real pay.”

Since most of the parents work, they may find themselves in a very difficult position as their child transitions out of the school system.

As a volunteer with the Special Olympics aquatics program in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, I coach a number of disabled people who have been working at the recycling depot.  Just like regular people, my athletes want to belong to the bigger world.  They enjoy being challenged, experiencing success and feeling like they’ve made a valuable contribution.  They enjoy each other’s companionship and acceptance.  They enjoy being part of something special together.

Thiesen says that the program at the recycling depot is part of an “old model,” but she doesn’t go on to tell us what the “new model” consists of.

People with disabilities have been with us forever and their advocates have been creating opportunities to help them find a place in the ‘big world’ for a very long time.  Axing a program that has been running successfully for 20 years and has a waiting list of people wanting to get in is both mean-spirited and short-sighted, unless, of course, the “new model” has something better to offer these people.

It all begs the question:  which families is Christy Clark putting first?  Not the ones who have disabled people in them, it would seem.

Mahatma Ghandi once made the following statement:  “It is said that the worth of a society can be measured by the manner in which it treats its weakest member.”

Paraphrased versions of it have been used by Sir Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II and Harry Truman, among others. It is a statement we should all be reflecting on as we see these disabled workers losing their jobs.

Elizabeth Rosenau

Maple Ridge


They need support

Editor, The News:

Re: Funding reinstated for jobs program (The News, Sept. 14).

People are all wound up about this story because it is making it look like the poor, vulnerable, handicapped people are being treated unfairly by government.

While I certainly don’t agree with everything CLBC does, I really think, in this case, that our public funds shouldn’t be heavily subsidizing a business that should be able to make money to pay its own employees.

If the work being done by these people with disabilities is work that the recycling depot needs to have done, then the depot should be paying the costs, not the government or CLBC.

Why do you need 28 people with disabilities all doing this same job?

Simply because it’s easier for the support people to supervise in a large group than help each person get their own job that is appropriate and meaningful to them.

I’m sure many of these folks could be out in their own jobs in various businesses in the community, not in a huge group with huge subsidies from the government.  That is what supported work should look like.  This is a sheltered workshop.

If the business can’t afford to pay the wages to support its employees, it is not a viable position and, therefore, not real work, but work government is having to pay to keep going.

People with disabilities don’t need government to make up jobs for them that look like real work. They need support to get out and actually find real work.

C. Arnold

Northern, B.C. (Terrace, Kitimat, Prince Rupert)

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