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Disabled support centres urged for Lower Mainland

Paul Gauthier has a big idea for Vancouver. He wants to create centres for the disabled where they can get…

Paul Gauthier has a big idea for Vancouver. He wants to create centres for the disabled where they can get specific services and programs tailored to their individual needs.

Paul Gauthier
Paul Gauthier: We're starting with the individual

Gauthier is a paraplegic and he is frustrated with what he sees as Vancouver’s current, one-system-fits-all approach to helping the disabled.

British Columbia is home to 11,400 people with disabilities in need of support, a number that has risen since 2006, according to the provincial government. It has helped 445 families cover the cost of special equipment through a $30-million grant from the Province for the Family Independence Fund.

That is not enough, said Gauthier.

For someone with a disability, understanding their unique needs is the first step toward gaining independence, he said.

“We’re actually doing something so innovative… starting with the individual… and finding out from the individual what their goals and aspirations are,” said Gauthier.

The Personal Supports Program in Victoria and Prince George is already taking the approach Gauthier describes. The program is backed by the Lower Mainland Community Implementation Group, an advocacy group for people with disabilities.

To meet the needs of a large urban centre like Vancouver, the group wants to see clusters of support centres offering services to a specific group of people, such as the hearing impaired. For example, someone with a hearing problem would go to a centre that could fit them with devices to help them hear properly.

“The system is set up… as a medical model system, where based on your disability these [pre-determined  options] are the kind of supports you will get,” said Gauthier.

In 2006, the Provincial Equipment and Assistive Devices Committee, a coalition of advocacy groups that has been trying to improve access to equipment, acknowledged the difficulty of meeting the needs of people with disabilities.

“If a person with a disability does not fall into a particular population or category of disability served by these programs, then they fall through the cracks,” they said.

Gauthier is fighting for the program to receive a portion of the $400 million he claims is available each year to people with disabilities from the provincial government.

He would like to see a centre in the Lower Mainland similar to the one in Victoria.

Related: Q&A: Paul Gauthier

The Victoria Personal Supports Centre has a program that starts by asking a client what their personal goals are, and then gives them the opportunity to test equipment.

‘Changing attitudes’

As the Community Implementation Group hammers out the details of their proposal, Gauthier has been pushing for a provincial Personal Supports Program at public events.

He spoke at an event at the Vancouver Public Library Downtown that brought together healthcare workers and academics to discuss community healthcare initiatives in the city.

Gauthier, Susan Troesch, Sarah Evans, Byron Cruz at a talk on healthcare initiatives, Vancouver
Gauthier, Susan Troesch, Sarah Evans, Byron Cruz gathered for a recent talk on healthcare initiatives

Other healthcare workers at the November 6 event talked about health initiatives that asked their clients what they think they need, in much the same way as a Personal Supports Program, said Gauthier.

Some disabled people in Vancouver feel they have so far been denied this kind of service.

“They denied me. I’m being denied work. I’m being denied everything,” said Gary, a disabled man at the talk. “What am I supposed to do? Go jump off the Lions Gate bridge because you people are just sitting there doing nothing? You people aren’t helping us.”

The British Columbia Ministry of Health spent $13 billion on programs and services in 2007-2008. In the ministry’s annual service plan report released in June 2008, it said it had met its goals of improving health and wellness and delivering high quality patient care, amongst others.

When asked about whether the Lower Mainland will have a Personal Supports Program in 2009, Gauthier remained optimistic. “Attitudes are changing all the time. The ministries have been very positive about [Victoria and Prince George] and the proposals that they brought forward as a community.”


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