Shelley DeCoste wants the word diversability enshrined in daily language.

Kelowna woman launches crusade to celebrate diverse abilities

Shelley DeCoste, a powerful self-advocate, wants the word "disability" stricken from Canadians' vernacular and replaced with "diversability"

  • May. 28, 2012 8:00 a.m.

Kelowna resident Shelley DeCoste has the kind of butterflies one only gets when a major change is in the wind.

As others get out to play a round of golf or game of baseball on the first weekend of June, DeCoste will stand up in front of a room full of people and launch her campaign to change the word “disability” to “diversability.”

“Everyone focuses on the ‘dis,’ on the things we can’t do,” she explained. “But people have all different abilities and I want that to be what’s understood.”

DeCoste has cerebral palsy, which she acquired when her oxygen supply was temporarily blocked at birth. It has left her with some physical and cognitive differences she might otherwise have missed; but she describes it more as a nuisance.

CP doesn’t change how she understands the world, she says, though it impacts her ability to communicate at the speed others might find customary.

” It’s more something that just pisses me off. Just because I might seem awkward, doesn’t mean I can’t participate in the community and work. I clue in in my own time,” she explains.

People with diversabilities do not want to be coddled or looked after, she adds.

“We want to work. Even if it’s just for a couple of hours in a day, we want to feel like we contribute.”

When someone is labelled as having a disability, it is easy to discount his or her contribution and potential; yet the particular abilities DeCoste possesses are very valuable.

Her paid employment sees her translate government documents so people with developmental disabilities can understand the policies and procedures and forms needed to run their lives. She is able to identify areas that might be problematic for others to read, then rearrange the wording so it makes sense to the people it affects.

As DeCoste explains it, when one ability is limited, it often creates a new ability. Someone who is missing their sight, for example, might experience a more acute sense of smell. Someone who cannot walk, might have a heightened level of dexterity in their upper body. Dropping the word “disabled” refocuses society on abilities, so these special assets can have value.

But there’s an even better argument for using “diversabilities.”

“I’m also trying to get everybody moving away from when we were institutionalized,” DeCoste says.

The world disabled is associated with the period when people were removed from their homes, labelled as handicapped and institutionalized, at times into abusive living conditions. The struggle to build inclusive communities has been compared to what the American civil rights movement did for race relations as it tries to reinstate some of the basic human rights everyone in a democratic society is supposed to enjoy.

B.C. was the first province in Canada to end institutionalization and has introduced proactive legal measures to enforce the changes, according to Faith Bodnar, B.C. Association for Community Living executive director.

Last year, the City of New Westminster held the first demolition ceremony in the country, tearing down the centre block of Woodlands School, one of the largest institutions in the province.

New legislation has also made it possible for those with diversabilities to secure a personal board of directors, or a miniboard, that operates like a non-profit society to ensure those who struggle to communicate still have their rights protected and needs met.

“People with developmental disabilities have really pushed the movement in how we talk,” said Bodnar.

Through powerful self-advocacy in the 1980s, associations termed as working for the “mentally retarded” or “handicapped” changed to titles termed “community living” in effort to encourage a more equitable, inclusive approach.

One of the more proactive annual conferences in the community living movement is held by the BCACL annually.

DeCoste will use it for her campaign launch, taking her drive to see “diversability” named Word of the Year to 400 delegates gathering in Penticton this weekend.

“It’s people who bare the label who show us the way,” said Bodnar. “That, for me, is the legacy of being privileged enough to be a part of the community living movement…Without them, we get off course too fast. And we don’t have to look back very far to think about what we can do better, how we can do more.”

A group in Europe has already created a campaign to see “diversability” included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Posted

Kelowna mayor pays emotional tribute to late senior city manager

Colin Basran chokes up remembering city corporate and protective services director Rob Mayne Monday

Country Music hopes to raise funds for Grand Forks families

The event will take place at OK Corral in Kelowna

NDP executive steps down in North Okanagan Shuswap

in-house ‘spending scandal’ blamed for Saturday’s resignation decision

Vernon second-degree murder suspect found not criminally responsible

Angelo Gabriel Monfort’s matter will be put to the British Columbia Review Board

Preliminary inquiry being held for West Kelowna man charged in wife’s murder

Man charged in the killing of his wife is in court this week for a preliminary inquiry.

Updated: Kelowna cops investigate armed robbery at city centre business

Robbery sparks late afternoon manhunt by armed police officers with guns drawn

UPDATED: 6-ha. brush fire east of Oliver ‘pretty well contained’

About 30 local firefighters and 10 B.C. Wildfire firefighters on scene, two air tankers responding

Late goal gives England 2-1 win over Tunisia

At the last World Cup in 2014, England couldn’t even win a game

Canadian military police officer pleads not guilty to sex assault

Sgt. Kevin MacIntyre, 48, entered his plea today at a court martial proceeding in Halifax

Vernon cold case murder suspect bail hearing Tuesday

Paramjit Singh Bogarh will appear in Vernon Law Courts at 10 a.m. June 19

Elvis lives again in Penticton

Elvis Festival back this weekend for 17th year

Tigers looking to lock up title

Face Flames tonight in Penticton

Cheers erupt as Federal Court judge approves historic gay purge settlement

Gay military veterans said they were interrogated, harassed and spied on because of their sexuality

Remains of two people found on Vancouver Island

Officials have not said whether or not the remains belong to two missing men, last seen in Ucluelet in mid-May

Most Read