A small Fruitvale contingent attended the Inclusion BC 2022 Conference in Surrey and returned home hoping to light a fire under local government.
Ben Postmus and his daughter Kayleigh Postmus attended the conference along with more than 600 people from May 26-28, with the central theme: Everybody Belongs.
Kayleigh, a 33-year-old woman living with disabilities, is incredibly resilient, unbelievably positive, and a staunch advocate for inclusion and acceptance.
“It was a lot of fun,” Kayleigh told the Trail Times. “Dancing was fun and the dinner was amazing. The organizers put on a great conference, it was amazing and the beds were comfy.”
The three-day conference highlighted a number of keynote speakers and breakout sessions that included seminars on self-advocacy, housing, supportive employment, education, health, digital literacy, friendship and engaging people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sexual health, and much more.
Kayleigh also led a seminar with her peers, where she shared one of her favourite moments about a special trip with her family.
“It was called Speak, Share, Laugh about speaking and sharing moments about us, people with disabilities, and what we do for fun,” said Kayleigh. “So I talked about Alaska, my Alaskan cruise.”
Kayleigh also sits on a community council in partnership with Community Living BC (CLBC), and family members and advocates from the East and West Kootenays. As the only attendees from Greater Trail, she says the conference provided invaluable information that she looks forward to sharing with the council and others.
“I can bring back the housing that people want to live in houses, they want jobs, people want to have boyfriends and have relationships and friends and learn how to advocate for themselves too,” said Kayleigh.
While many municipalities have actively engaged and implemented inclusion supports and services, some local governments have been slow to respond.
“Comparing to what many communities are doing, we have a lot of work to do here with regards to supportive employment, with regards to inclusive housing, intentional communities, and with regards to how folks with disabilities are perceived in the community,” said Ben.
He points to communities like Nelson and Port Alberni that have “raised the bar” on inclusive housing, and taken the initiative on providing property, funds, supports and guidance on inclusive community housing.
“They are doing as much as they can for free to get the fire going on inclusive housing and intentional communities,” Ben said. “It is an amazing model, and there are so many other amazing models in other communities as well … just not Trail.
“They have had many opportunities to look at them and they are not.”
As a coordinator for Family Supports Institute of BC, Postmus is a persistent advocate seeking supports from municipal governments and community groups, yet, realizes the will and resources are not always equal.
“The scale is not balanced, there are so many service-rich communities, and so many communities that are not, and ultimately it is on the families to have to go to bat consistently to get the services they need for their family members,” said Ben.
He says the Village of Fruitvale is making progress on Phase 1 of the affordable and inclusive housing project on Columbia Gardens Avenue, which will provide housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
More good news came on Monday, May 30, when the province announced that there will be new funding of nearly $5.3M devoted to community inclusion.
The funding will support Reimagining Community Inclusion projects in the priority areas of inclusive housing, employment, health and wellness, inclusive Indigenous services and a community-inclusion innovation fund, which focuses on inclusion projects.
The Postmus family has been advocating for inclusive supports for decades. If you live in Fruitvale you probably know Kayleigh, and can’t help but stop and say ‘Hi!’ whether it’s at a Nitehawks game, a local store, or a variety of Special Olympics BC -Trail events.
The conference proved an especially reinvigorating experience that offered some hope and guidance for the family.
“For Kayleigh it was tremendous exposure on what she needs to do to advocate for herself for the rest of her life,” said Ben.
Along with many others in Greater Trail, Kayleigh is not asking for much, only a chance to live and grow independently.
“I do want my own place,” she said. “Learn how to make my own bed, do my own laundry, and make my own food — to live a normal life.”
Vancouver will host the World Inclusion Conference in 2023 and expects upwards of 1,000 delegates from across the globe, including Ben and Kayleigh.