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Richmond Centre for Disability expands horizons

By Hannah Scott

Published 3:20 PDT, Fri May 6, 2022

The Richmond Centre for Disability is bringing people back together through a variety of programs this spring.

With limited socialization opportunities that suddenly shut down early in the pandemic, the centre’s community outreach coordinator Dave Thomson says that other elements of everyday life were also thrown into a tailspin.

“I have a friend who’s blind and he was in the process just before COVID of getting a new service dog. Then COVID hit and he couldn’t get the dog,” says Thomson. “He couldn’t go out—what do you do when you don’t have your sight?”

Masks made lip-reading challenging, and Thomson was concerned many Richmond Centre for Disability (RCD) clientele would avoid leaving their homes. There was a desire to get people out doing things rather than home staring at screens all day.

Now, Thomson is hopeful people will want to connect, despite concerns that fewer people will attend in-person events.

Outdoor relaxation classes run Wednesdays near city hall, and the Tuesday games club is now in-person. The singing club continues on Zoom because of the heightened COVID-19 risk around singing, although the club has expanded into a karaoke opportunity.

“Doing public education and asking people to come and talk, (Zoom) is great because the scheduling is so much easier,” Thomson says. “If someone says they can’t come, I can say, ‘Just tape something for me’.”

Thomson also hosts a conversation class, describing most participants as “voluntarily non-verbal.” Through challenges with autism or other learning disabilities, they only speak when necessary, so engaging them in conversation can be difficult. 

Prior to the pandemic, RCD celebrated International Invisible Awareness Day annually. Back this year, the event is Thursday (May 12) from 10:30 a.m. to noon, with Carmelle Jaeggle from Pain BC as the guest speaker. Thomson will present an updated workshop as well.

On May 31, RCD also marks National Access Awareness Week with its “Can I start tomorrow?” event.

“If you go in for a job interview and they ask you, ‘Can you start tomorrow?’, a healthy person usually can say yes or no really quickly,” explains Thomson. “If you have a disability, you have to line up lots of things.”

Additional considerations include transportation, site accessibility, length of time commitment, and washroom facilities. Half-hour workshops will help people resolve those concerns, plus provide tips on finding inexpensive interview clothing and tax help. Thomson will also run a session on how and when to disclose your disability during a job interview.

“You want to make it empowered, not just say you can’t do something and force an employer to fix it, but add, ‘I have this thing that I bring with me’ or ‘I can do this’,” he says.

Additionally, RCD has a new community garden plot on the Garden City Lands. A program will run this summer once landscaping renders it wheelchair-accessible.

Online content through RCD’s ShareNet program keeps people connected and engaged. A three-month series on parenting and disability explores the topic from all angles. Thomson says there have been silver linings with the continuing success of ShareNet’s virtual programming.

“As a non-profit, we want to keep regenerating and reaching younger people with disabilities,” he says. “I’m excited about what we’re going to do on that platform.”

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