Coming to work for a charity that operates in the disability field without disability related work experience of my own provided a huge learning curve. I think the same kind of learning curve likely happens for most people who get involved in this field either through work, or because they have a family member living with a disability.
Here are a few things I have learned while working in the disability field:
1. Abbreviations are common in many fields and industries, but the number of abbreviations in the disability field blew me away, and took a long time to learn. You have PDD (Persons with Developmental Disabilities, also called Disability Services), FS (Family Support), FSCD (Family Support for Children with Disabilities), EI (Early Intervention), FMS (Family Managed Services), PWD (Person with a disability), AISH (Assured Income for the severely handicapped), and so many more! I wish more people would get in the habit of just writing out the words, because I think everyone spends way too much time looking up the meaning of abbreviations, or simply going through life pretending they know what they mean!
2. I learned I wasn’t using the correct language. Person first language has become the norm when referring to anyone who lives with a disability. This was something I was not aware of when I first entered the field and based on my discussions with people outside of work I know approximately 90% of the population has yet to learn about person first language, which simply means that you refer to the person before the barrier, which provides more respect and humanity. As an example, instead of saying “I have an Autistic friend” where Autism gets first billing rather than the person, you would say “I have a friend who lives with Autism” (this is if you feel the need to label your friend at all, which is a whole other conversation). Pretty easy to get the hang of using person first language!
3. The current system in Alberta and Canada for supporting people who live with disabilities is very much broken. Right now, many supports will end after the person turns 18, which means planning for the transition to adulthood is crucial for anyone with a disability, as well as for their family members. Gateway Association is one of a few organizations that really focuses on trying to get that transition plan created as soon as possible so that the shift can be made more smoothly. It seems to me that a drastic change in many of the support services needs to be made as the transition to adulthood is only one of the large holes in the entire support process. There are so many other areas that need correcting, but the transition to adulthood and the drop off of many supports was one of the most eye-opening flaws that I learned about when I started at Gateway.
Overall there has been a lot for me to learn, and I have only just scratched the surface. I look forward to learning more, and hope if any of you have questions about this confusing system you will feel free to reach out to our fantastic team of Family Support and Employment experts here at Gateway Association.