Building a world where everyone is included

Building a world where everyone is included

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Contributors:

Emily Bednarz and Emma Menchefski

A century ago in Windsor, Ontario, ten Rotary clubs came together to create Easter Seals: a network of charitable organizations that provides opportunities to children, youth, and adults with disabilities. Since then, Easter Seals has become the largest national organization of its kind. Their organizations serve over 40,000 people across Canada, in every province and territory.

The organization was first incorporated in Nova Scotia in 1931, going under a number of names before becoming Easter Seals Nova Scotia in 2009. “The organization has built a tremendous legacy in Nova Scotia,” says Joanne Bernard, President and CEO. Bernard cites Camp Tidnish and New Leaf Enterprises among their many successes. For several decades, the programs have offered employment and recreational support to children and adults living with differing abilities.

In addition to maintaining their programs, Easter Seals advocates for accessibility legislation, both provincially and nationally. “The quest for accessibility and inclusion for persons living with disabilities has always been one of the enduring guiding principles of Easter Seals,” says Bernard. “Our provincial mission statement of ‘we see a world where everyone is included’ is not just our vision. We strive every day to make it our reality.”

As Minister of Community Services in 2016, Bernard introduced Bill 59: the Accessibility Act for Nova Scotia. The bill was passed into law in 2017, committing Nova Scotia to becoming fully accessible by 2030. “It’s a very lofty goal,” says Bernard, noting that a similar bill was passed nationally in 2019. “Both the province and the country have made tremendous advances in accessibility,” she says. “It takes time, but the needle is finally moving in the right direction.”

It's tireless work, but it’s endlessly fulfilling for Bernard. “My most favourite part of working at Easter Seals is being able to witness the joy, sense of accomplishment, and sense of belonging on the faces and in the words of children, youth, and adults who, for the most part, live in a world that is not made for them,” she says.

Bernard has seen countless success stories in her work with Easter Seals Nova Scotia, but one stands out. “I was talking to a dad at a sledge hockey game,” she recalls. “I asked him what the program meant to him.” The father replied: “If anyone had told me after the diagnosis of my son that I would be buying him hockey tape at Canadian Tire years later, I would have told them they were crazy.” Bernard was struck by the father’s example: a seemingly ordinary errand. “It’s a task that millions of parents do every day,” she says. “But if you are the parent of a child with a disability, that small act is significant.”

Our business community can help to make moments like this an everyday reality. It all starts with a change in mindset. “The business community needs to flip the switch and stop thinking of accessibility as a cost to business,” says Bernard. “Accessibility means more people can access your goods and services. Accessibility means you tap into a willing and able workforce. Accessibility sends a message of being an employer of choice. Accessibility is opportunity.”

According to Bernard, accessibility is a particularly important issue for our province. “Nova Scotia has the highest per capita rate of disability in the country at 27%,” she says. “It is time to move the needle forward in all realms of our society — not because we have to, but because we want to.” As Bernard said at the 100th year Easter Seals anniversary gala on March 24, “Accessibility is not a cost – it's an investment.” ν

Learn more about Easter Seals Nova Scotia by visiting:

easterseals.ns.ca

< Back to Articles | Topics: Member Profile

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