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Researching Researchers: Sheenagh Morrison interviews Susan Stanfield

September 30, 2012

We were excited when Sheenagh and Jim decided to interview one of our favourite people for our series of interviews of researchers on disability issues, by self advocates.

Sheenagh: Susan, you have been working on a new book which will be published by Spectrum Press in October. Could you tell us what it is called and what it is about?

Susan: My book is called “Getting to Community: Supporting people with developmental disabilities in their pursuit of the good life.” It’s aimed at front line supporters, those who assist people with disabilities in their day to day lives. Many of the ideas in the book are ideas that have been around for a long time that I think are still very relevant and useful, but they’re not well known by the current generation of people working in our field. The role of support workers has changed from what it was years ago, before people with developmental disabilities had the rights they do today or had the kind of leadership over their lives that more self advocates are claiming now. We’re moving away from the idea of “taking care” of people and doing for them, to the idea of working together in partnership and supporting people with disabilities to take charge of their own lives. Those in support positions need different skills than the skills we’ve relied on in the past.

Sheenagh: What made you decide to write your book?

Susan: I do monthly orientations with new support workers at Spectrum, and I find that often they don’t know about the history of community living or some of the issues facing people with disabilities. There are a lot of books and articles written about community living but not so much about how to actually support people in the community, or practical information for those working in support positions. I saw a need for taking some of the theory and big ideas about community living and showing how to put those ideas into practice.

Sheenagh: Spectrum Press is publishing an anthology in October, too. First, what is an anthology, and second, what is this anthology about?

Susan: An anthology is a collection of articles or stories. The anthology we’re publishing this fall is a collection of articles by different researchers and leaders in the community living movement. The title of our anthology,”From Institutions to Individuals,” is taken from an essay I wrote a couple of years ago that looks at how community services and programs sometimes become institutional if we’re not careful. The essays in the anthology all relate to this idea in some way, and talk about being thoughtful in how we go about this work so we are being truly person-centred and putting the needs of individuals and families first, rather than the needs of the system.

Sheenagh: What are a couple of the most exciting things going on at Spectrum Society right now?

Susan: I think this shift we’re making, away from traditional services to a more person-centred approach, is the most exciting thing happening right now, not just at Spectrum but in our field generally. The young adults coming into services today are the first generation to have experienced inclusive education, and likewise the generation of employees we’re hiring into support positions now have grown up alongside people with developmental disabilities in their schools and neighbourhoods. It might not seem like a big deal to them, but it’s the first time in history that this has happened. I never saw a person with a disability the whole time I was going through school. My kids have had classmates with disabilities since pre-school and they find it hard to imagine community without people with disabilities. It’s exciting to be working in this field right now and to see this history unfolding.

Another exciting thing happening at Spectrum right now is our Research and Training division, which Aaron Johannes is leading. Spectrum Press is part of that, publishing books and articles related to community living, and the other part is Spectrum Learning, which provides training and workshops as well as hosting leaders in our field from all over the world. David Pitonyak will be here with us for a week in October to do some training, and John Lord in November. It’s been great to be able to host some of the most important leaders in our field and learn from them.

Sheenagh: Can you tell a brief story about one of your friends who has a disability and what you think they bring to their community?

Susan: Aaron and I spent a day with the Victoria self advocates group two years ago, doing a session on building personal support networks. I met a young woman that day who had bought a copy of our book, 101 Ways to Make Friends, and she wanted us to autograph it for her. She introduced herself to me a bit reluctantly and said she was very shy. We later became facebook friends and so I’ve been following her adventures ever since through her facebook updates and pictures. She’s inspired me many times with her positive attitude and with what she can accomplish when she sets her mind to something. I didn’t know when I met her that she works at Thrifty Foods. Last year she took a trip to New Zealand. She writes a blog with other self advocates. And this year she started writing for our 101 Ways to Make Friends blog, doing interviews with researchers who are interested in community living. I know from talking to other self advocates that she’s an inspiration to them, and to everyone else who has the pleasure of knowing her.   🙂

Sheenagh: I am wondering how people can pre-order the new Spectrum Press books.

Susan: You can pre-order copies on our website – and we’ll send them to you.

Sheenagh: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Susan: Thanks for interviewing me!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Matthew permalink
    October 4, 2012 11:24 am

    Hi Susan! One thing I’d like to see in our community are services that can encourage, or help people living with disabilities to obtain and keep a form of employment. Not just Work Experience or being sent to Volunteer somewhere for years and years, but places that will actually Hire people like us!

    I took a Job Training Progream and got sent to many companies where I worked for a month at each one and wasn’t paid for my time. I was told it’s education not work! Lots of Employers loved my performance but refused to hire me for Liability reasons, but get this… many said they would gladly let me stay, as a Volunteer.

    At the end of that program, I was declaired Unemployable because nobody would hire me. Instead, the instructors suggested I sign up for it again the following year, and even if it doesn’t lead to a job, at least it’ll keep me busy! To me, that’s an insult… but to them, they’re just doing their job… finding something to keep us busy.

    Shopping Malls would be the easiest place to hire someone in a wheelchair, as none of the stores have narrow doors to go through, or steps to climb. You’d think that would be the perfect place! But go into Mayfair Mall, Hillside Mall, Tillicum Mall, or any other Large Shopping Mall and see if you can find One Store that has a person in a wheelchair who actually Works there!

    The public keeps telling me to get a job, and trust me, I would… if an Employer could see me for my skills and talents, not just my physical limitations!

    Currently, I conduct a Senior Men’s Chorus called the Saanich Songmen by using Leg Braces that enable me to stand for a few hours each day. I’m also the Vice President of another Men’s Choir, and I sing in a Men’s Barbershop Quartet, but that doesn’t mean anything to an Employer.

    Over and over, I find workshops which claim to be focussing on the Independence of people with disabilities, only to find it’s Companies showing off their newest Wheelchair accessible Vans (as if I could afford one), and other devices that get purchased for Care Homes.

    Everywhere I go for help (for example I tried Community Living BC recently), I get a reply saying something like… “I’m sorry, but we’re not equipped to help you in that area, however here are some places you could try. Best of luck!”
    Only when I tried those places, they all suggested I try the one that sent me to them, and round and round it goes!

    Alienated, and who cares???


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