BACI strives to sustain beacons of inclusion beyond the pandemic

Created in 1956, the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI) offers a range of community services to support the inclusion and belonging of people with disabilities.

Co-executive director Richard Faucher, a long-time advocate for human rights and social justice, has been with the non-profit for 30 years. “People with disabilities are still perceived as a vulnerable population that needs a lot,” he says. “So how do we help elevate people in our community so that they’re fully included? Not just like they’re in the community – we want them to be part of the community.”

Creating a society that includes all people

BACI is guided by a theory of change with three crucial, interconnected components: service delivery, advocacy and community development. Services include programming for infants, all the way to seniors. All initiatives are designed to reflect the reality of the Canadian population, where 10 to 15 per cent of people live with, or experience, a disability.

One service BACI offers is “life sharing”: creating homes where people live together. “People love the idea of sharing their lives with someone, and it allows people to live in the community together. It’s quite magical to see how these networks can begin to grow together and then relationships are formed,” Faucher shares.

BACI consistently leverages its resources to be “a conduit of inclusion,” Faucher explains. This could involve creating a community garden in one of its homes, setting up electric vehicle stations in a building the organization owns to spark further conversation with users about the association, or encouraging people who rent space from BACI to include people with disabilities in their activities.

Addressing COVID-19 challenges

One of the biggest challenges during COVID-19 is ensuring that isolation, already a challenge for people with disabilities, is not compounded. Consequently, in partnership with posAbilities, Kinsight and InWithForward, BACI created, an online platform where people can engage in activities and experiences together.

Safety and inclusion on equal footing at BACI. | Photo courtesy of BACI

Another significant impact of COVID-19 is restrictions on hospital visitors. For people with complex needs, not having a support person to facilitate communication with hospital staff or help with personal care can result in serious consequences. BACI’s advocacy efforts, in partnership with families and people with disabilities, led to the development of a policy in Victoria to ensure people with disabilities can have essential visitors.

Also, physical distancing is not possible for many people with disabilities who require on-site assistance. “It’s the same with wearing a mask,” Faucher adds. “For example, for some folks with autism, it’s not something comfortable. And now if you can’t go to get your hair cut because you can’t wear a mask – it just compounds all the time.”

Despite the challenges, Faucher appreciates the collaboration demonstrated among community partners and funders, and hopes this will continue. Committed to learning during the pandemic, BACI has been collecting community stories to inform future organizational decisions. For instance, the revelation that many community members don’t have credit cards, resulting in significant challenges with purchasing goods in a time where cash is sometimes not accepted, has prompted reflection on how to address this. Faucher notes that BACI’s strategies need to change to remain relevant as community needs shift, and emphasizes the necessity of ensuring “the beacon of inclusion in the community that surfaced during the pandemic” is not lost.

Future directions

The pandemic necessitated reverting to a focus on health and safety; however, BACI aims to return to a model that helps people to thrive. This includes investment in social research and development to create new solutions to address stigma and social connections, and facilitate people becoming more self-determined.

“If we continue to perpetuate people with disabilities as in need of help, they’ll never have the opportunity to become equal citizens,” Faucher stresses. “What we need is relationships and connections. So, if you’re the average citizen and you want to make a difference, when you meet someone with a disability, don’t walk away, just invite the person to walk with you.”

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