Redefining Ability

Shelley Hourston, Vancouver Sun, February 21, 2009

Shelley Hourston is a program director for the AIDS & Disability Action
Program and the Wellness & Disability Initiative at the BC Coalition of
People with Disabilities and welcomes big (and small) ideas for redefining

If we are serious about creating a resilient future for our province, we
must redefine ability.

I have studied, written about, and facilitated workshops on resilience and
creative thinking skills. I have also worked at the BC Coalition of People
with Disabilities for more than 10 years.

People who apply for disability benefits are required to catalogue all the
ways in which they are unable to contribute to society. To be successful in
securing financial support, they must itemize all of the areas where they
are unsuccessful. By the time many people have completed the application
process for benefits, they have lost self-respect and self-esteem. To be
worthy of disability benefits means proving that you are unworthy.

Labelled, socially (and sometimes physically) isolated, marginalized and
living in poverty, many people with disabilities exist outside of the
mainstream of “participating, contributing, valuable members of society.”

In my work at the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities, I witness on a
daily basis the creativity and resilience of people our society has
discarded. When people can survive on meagre disability benefits, manage
difficult health issues and/or mental or physical challenges, and volunteer
or otherwise contribute to their families and communities, just imagine what
they could do if we recognized and acknowledged their abilities.

From my experience with Appreciative Inquiry and creative thinking
techniques, I know that the questions we ask determine the answers we find. How DISabled are you? In what ways are you unable to contribute? What if we
asked everyone in B.C.: How can you contribute? What will you offer to your
neighbour and your community? How can we work together to change the
poverty, health inequities, violence, and despair that prevent a resilient
future? What are your creative solutions to the challenges we all face?

We spend millions of dollars on social and health problems and yet we don’t nurture and enlist the ideas and insights of some of the most creative and resilient among us. When we look at people with disabilities, we dismiss some of the abilities that are so essential in building strong communities
— kindness, creativity, humour, persistence, commitment and passion.

Imagine a future B.C. in which everyone is recognized as able in so many

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