39%. Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

voter_apathy_431035As a major urban center in one of the world’s leading democracies we need to take a good hard look at ourselves Ottawa.

This is the capital city of Canada.

It’s not insignificant that more than 60% of our eligible voters did not participate in the municipal election.

I understand anger towards those who want to destroy our way of life. I share those concerns. It gripped our city for the past week and it’s still raw.

But how can there be such a big disconnect with our citizenry that they are so passionate about democracy and yet fail to exercise the most basic and fundamental of their democratic rights by skipping the election?

Should we not be just a little ashamed of a 39% turnout?

Can’t we all strengthen our democracy through such relatively simple acts?

We cannot be in complete control of others but we can get ourselves to the voting booth. And until that once again becomes important to us, there is an enemy within.

Apathy and democracy are a truly unhealthy mix.

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The Day After #OttawaStrong


It’s a very difficult subject but there is a common misunderstanding or deliberate misrepresentation of “safety” as meaning that the “sufficient amount of safety” can stop all bad things from happening. This simply isn’t true. A rush to judgement at this time will not help #OttawaStrong. We will analyze this with drier eyes and seek a reasonable balance of protection and freedom knowing that 1000 armed guards with assault rifles patrolling our city will not actually help us be or feel safer.

In the meantime, since I suspect most people are a lot like me and won’t even try to pretend they know what should be done about this type of senseless violence, I will try to be a little more kind to everyone, love my family, friends, city, and country a little more, and sing my national anthem with a shaky but louder-than-ever voice on Friday night. Those are things in my control and I know a little more love in the world can actually make a difference even if I am powerless over so much else that I cannot control.

If there is one way that my own expertise and experience can inform this situation it would be my thorough understanding that safety comes mainly from reciprocal and caring relationships with others. That’s not touchy-feely stuff. It’s a fact. I work in supporting a population that is at an exponentially higher risk of violence and abuse than the average person. They are at greater risk because they tend to have vastly fewer natural relationships than other citizens. It took me years to understand that making them safer means, for the most part, not a street-proofing course or cell phone full of emergency quick dial numbers (those are fine to have too!) but rather that I/we increase the number of people in the world who care about them.

For those of us who are not on the front lines, we can truly contribute to #OttawaStrong by building a more caring community.

Bruce MacKinnon

by Bruce MacKinnon

My heartfelt condolences to those directly and indirectly harmed in yesterday’s tragedy. My thanks to our magnificent first responders and those who were simply “on the scene” by happenstance and showed the world that we are possessed of an unselfish spirit and a determination to live our lives as a community, not as islands of individuals.

Stay strong Ottawa.

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A Farewell To Frontenac

It’s done! The papers are signed, keys exchanged, and all that jazz. We had two great years at our cottage on North Otter Lake, but come the start of season three, much like Jerry and Jeannie on Seinfeld, we came to a mutual agreement that it was time to part ways (with the cottage, that is).


We said goodbye to the cottage on Thursday!

So, for those many caring persons who were concerned that we hadn’t made it up there much this summer, now you know the scoop.

It had to do with a lot of factors. This includes the return of CFL football in Ottawa, a long-awaited event, and as season ticket holders, we don’t want to miss a game if we can help it. Since most of them are on weekends during cottage season, there’s a choice to be made. Other significant factors included our work-vacation road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway (reminding us of how much we like to travel and see new things) and re-activating our interest in tennis (as players). That’s a lot of interests and activities to manage alongside the cottage scene.

Probably the simple way to say it is we grew bored of the cottage. It was the perfect size for us, the lake is clean, there’s kayaking and hiking…no problem! Except that we’ve seen every inch of the lake many times over, we’ve driven all the different routes on the road trip, and we just weren’t feeling it anymore. We’d have been sitting on the dock trying to relax and thinking about the tennis tournament of football game or night out with friends we were missing.

You never know until you try! We enjoyed our two years and will remember them fondly, but we are excited to look ahead to future summers full of different adventures!

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On The Road, And Then?

I made a good move starting up my new blog Keenan Speaks. It’s a new professional goal to get out more and purposefully spread a positive message about including people with disabilities in the community in neighbourhoods, workplaces, and community venues, and it’s working well.

By working well, I don’t mean merely that I am getting invitations, but rather that the response is delivering results: employers that want to find out more about hiring a person with an intellectual disability, a volunteer board member of a fundraising body that thinks LiveWorkPlay should be a beneficiary, a passionate citizen that wants to volunteer…

It’s also a refreshing break the endless scarcity dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s true that there are thousands of people on Developmental Services waiting lists who need and deserve support. But it’s also true that a lot of what goes on in the sector has little connection to helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities enjoy an included life in their community. A lot of the resources expended only produce results that exist within the system: institutional forms of housing and institutional forms of human warehousing in agency facilities through day programs and sheltered workshops.

Getting out and talking to “regular people” reminds me that although the system has serious problems and needs to be reformed, there is nothing stopping an agency like LiveWorkPlay from connecting with coalitions of the willing within the system, as well as the big world beyond Developmental Services to make a difference in people’s lives.

I am grateful to Community Living Atikokan and Community Living Thunder Bay who invited Julie and I to visit their organizations in March. This exposed us to new ways that we could make a difference. It doesn’t matter that LiveWorkPlay has certain distinct differences from other organizations. What matters is what we have in common. I’ve come to understand there is lot that other people can take from our experience and that we can in turn learn from them about how to work together to make the world a better place for marginalized citizens.

And so it is that Julie and I are off to two conferences in the relatively distant lands of Wenatchee, Washington (near Seattle) for the Community Summit and Long Beach, California for the APSE National Conference. We are honoured and humbled to be sharing the spotlight with legends like Al Condeluci, Bruce Anderson, Norman Kunc and Emma Vander Klift, and more.


This is also a bit frightening but Julie and I have figured out that something we bring to the discussion is our ongoing very close daily connection with people with intellectual disabilities, their families, and community partners. Nothing we have to say is theoretical: it’s what goes on every day with our staff team colleagues. There’s only 10 of them, so we are close to the action, to understate the situation.

We know that what was celebrated at Engines of Success last Thursday is not typical of what Developmental Services agencies are supporting, and so we have something important to share, even if we’ve not taken a breath to publish books about it or design a training curriculum (not yet, anyway!).

We do hope to inspire people, but also make sure that they understand the difficulty of this work. The real world is a messy place. There are no guarantees and certainties, there is only the relentless drive to support people on their own life journey.

We are excited by also tired, and so it is with great excitement that there is a gap in time between these two conferences, and we are going to take full advantage of this opportunity to spend some time along the sea coast of Washington, Oregon, and California. We desperately need to unplug a little.

We’ll be back for the week of July 7 and I’ll be right back at it with a planning meeting on Monday for the Opportunities and Possibilities: Fundraising and People with Disabilities conference.

I look forward to sharing all of the experiences of this road trip when I return. I expect it will be an odd mix of human services epiphanies to observations about sea otter behaviours! And perhaps there will even be some crossover between the two.

Who knows what’s next? It will be exciting to find out!

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Investing In People’s Lives: A Beautiful Mess

As I sat listening to this year’s United Way Ottawa Community Investment announcement, I was prepared for a few smiles, camaraderie with familiar faces, and the opportunity to contribute some applause for deserving people. I’ve been in the charitable sector for about 20 years now as an employee, volunteer, board member, spokesperson, and many other roles, so I’ve seen a lot and as a result, I’m not easily moved. But I have to say the story of Guy Clairoux touched me pretty deeply.


Please watch the video that tells his story, but here’s why it really hits home for me.

Guy had a rough time at school and was targeted because he wore glasses. So he took off his glasses and did not wear them in class. The problem with that solution is he could not see very well, and the school labeled him as having a disability, and he was segregated into the Special Education program. Desperate for social connection, he found some willing comrade outcasts who introduced him to smoking, drugs, and crime.

This part of the story touched me for a variety of reasons, one of them being that although Guy was misdiagnosed before being sent to Special Education, it doesn’t really matter – segregating people does not help them. It punishes them.

We need our schools to be inclusive places where students learn to be together regardless of their differences. When our schools instead reinforce difference, we end up with adults who carry on what was taught to them – that people with disabilities belong in the basement, somewhere down the hall, somewhere around the corner, somewhere out of sight. There is no opportunity to learn about reciprocity and value.


It is not well understood that the 75% unemployment rate for people with intellectual disabilities has little to do with “skills” or the need for an updated resume. The problem is that potential employers and co-workers have been taught their entire lives that “those people” belong in separate places. At LiveWorkPlay we take pride in working with United Way Ottawa and other partners to demonstrate that including people with disabilities changes workplaces for the better.

The other part of the story that touched me was seeing Guy right in front of me as a cherished hero of his local community. He turned his life around (something United Way Ottawa donors support) and is credited with helping to dramatically improve the lives of the residents of Regina Towers (part of Ottawa Community Housing).

As it turns out, I know the building well. I went to Regina Street Public School and passed the building every day. I was also aware that for a period of time the Regina Towers community felt unsafe due to the unwelcoming presence of some residents that were engaging in criminal and other negative behaviour. It became one of those buildings where people would cringe when the name was mentioned.

What is remarkable (as you listen to the tenants speaking in the video) there are now people hoping to spend their entire lives at Regina Towers. They don’t want to go anywhere else. They are home. They feel safe.

But it is the same building. But different.

Because people like Guy changed it.

Because people believed in him and he was able to turn his life around, and was able to apply his life lessons to helping others.

Too many times, particularly when the topic is addictions, I hear people talking about the waste of money and energy that goes to helping addicts. Sometimes the comments go further, as in, perhaps it is best to let addicts kill themselves with their own habit.

That’s a pretty ugly sentiment, but I’ve learned that this is mainly borne out of fear and ignorance, and perhaps a sense of hopelessness – that “those people can’t be helped.”

I looked Guy in the eyes today. There is life and light. There is a powerful energy that contrasts in a compelling manner from the hollow shell that was Guy as an addict. Guy’s life could have ended many times, and that would have been a tragedy, as is all loss of life…but Guy didn’t merely survive. Because he got the help he needed, he is a beloved leader in his community.

In conclusion, if you are in position to advocate for inclusion, speak up. Be a part of the solution. If you sometimes feel frustrated by people like “Guy the addict” try to remember that the person could be “Guy the community hero” in waiting.

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Deconstructing Sheltered Workshops: Confusion Abounds

I recently had the opportunity to publicly discuss the Garrie v Janus ruling of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario which decided in favour of Terrie-Lynn Garrie; that her pay of $1.25 an hour was discriminatory and that she is to be awarded damages.

Beyond this specific situation, the HRTO has also pressed for more information about sheltered workshops across Ontario. US statistics indicate that almost three times as many resources are invested in segregated activities than in helping people with intellectual disabilities live as included citizens (homes, workplaces, social life). It is estimated that the situation is also 3:1 in Ontario but there is no available data to determine this. It’s something I am hoping the Legislature of Ontario Select Committee on Developmental Services can identify as an issue and find some answers.

We really don’t know much about where people with intellectual disabilities live, work, and play in our communities, and we certainly don’t know enough about the disconnect between our investment in the Developmental Services system and the results it produces. The system is supposed to be delivering inclusive outcomes, but given that the majority of its activities seem to be focused on infrastructure supporting group homes, sheltered workshops, and day programs, we need to ask some hard questions, get some solid answers, and start developing some firm plans to point the DS ship in the right direction.

In some ways it is simple – invest in what includes people, not what excludes them – and yet, it is very complicated. Some evidence of this is found in the recent column by Christie Blatchford “Case of seeming cruelty more complicated than it looks.”

Ms. Blatchford is correct that the situation is very complicated, and although she made a game effort to unbundle the facts, there is still some confusion to this story. This is not a criticism of her efforts, it’s just that when it comes to something as convoluted as sheltered workshops, there’s nothing simple about it.

It’s first important to clarify that there is no law that has closed sheltered workshops. There are in fact thousands of people, mainly those with intellectual disabilities, in work-like settings all over the province, where they are receiving “wages” similar to the $1.25 in the Garrie-Janus case. These workshops are in a very slow decline, but the slow pace of this social change (which has been going on for about 40 years) is clearly about to speed up.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other moral and legal frameworks have brought new attention to these practices, and we are now at a critical juncture. We continue to invest heavily in segregated infrastructure (mostly established in the 1970s) when we need be adopting modern practices that result in inclusive outcomes. This requires entirely different types of supports, which although proven very effective, are grossly underfunded.

I’m not a lawyer or a labour law specialist, but as I understand it, one of the circumstances in this situation that made for a relatively clear human rights violation was the fact of non-disabled individuals working alongside individuals with disabilities, all of whom were performing similar tasks, but at decidedly different pay. That’s an ugly optic, even if it is complicated.

Whether someone’s mother approved of this or not, or whether the company told certain employees they could take coffee breaks as often as they wanted, or whether the low income amounts were reported to Ontario Disability Support Program, that did not sway the tribunal, and that is in my opinion a very good thing. When citizens of any type are being exploited, it’s not uncommon that caring or well-meaning people could be part of the processes, structures, or environments where discrimination is taking place.

But it would be a mistake to get trapped in the financial details or to focus solely on equity. The bigger picture here is a slow but sure social change where people with intellectual disabilities are emerging from the shadows and margins of their own communities.

It is no surprise that Ms. Garrie has not found life easy after leaving the workshop. I do not know her life history, so I’ll not speak to that, but refer instead to the typical profile of a person her age who has her particular disability labels: she would have received a segregated education (Special Education classrooms or a school that was entirely segregated) followed by adult services (such as day programs or sheltered workshops) where she would be similarly isolated from authentic community experience (such as a real workplace), and in a group living situation (such as a group home) with a staff-centric environment, sharing space with people that she never chose to live with.

For a person in their 40s with such a history, they would need a mix of paid and unpaid support to establish themselves in the community as a neighbour, an employee, and a valued citizen.

It is clear to me that we do need to bring sub-minimum wage practices to an end. This issue has exploded in the United States. President Obama has weighed in. There is a massive class action lawsuit in Oregon. This change in Ontario will happen, likely through a mix of voluntary transitions and legislative transitions.

But the real issue is planning for the transition. The closing part is relatively easy. It’s what happens next (or more appropriately, leading up to closure) that takes investment of thought and resources. There are many agencies that have been delivering inclusive outcomes for people with intellectual disabilities for 20 years or more, but these are by far in the minority, for the simple reason that their activities have not been significantly supported.

They have been considered on the fringe, likely labeled as “innovative” and thus isolated from mainstream funding sources. They operate without much infrastructure. Most of their work is about building relationships. This is harder to understand than building activity centres or group homes, but it’s what needs to be done if we believe in an inclusive society and also if we believe our tax dollars should deliver results we can be proud of.

The sheltered workshops could close tomorrow, and reopen the next day as “day programs” with no pay at all (instead of $1.25 an hour) and I believe most of the same people would come in and take their place around the tables just as they have always done before. So money has been the catalyst for drawing attention to this issue, but it’s not really THE issue.

This is really about how our society (and taxpayers) have invested and continue to invest billions of dollars in a system that serves mainly to segregate people with intellectual disabilities from their communities. Some 40 years ago, this was an advancement, as these centres were a great improvement compared to the large institutions located on the outskirts of town.

But now the next phase of this social change is long overdue. It’s not about providing people with a place where they can “sort of work” and sit on a sofa to pass the time. It’s about possibilities. It’s about respect and dignity. It’s about valuing people with intellectual disabilities as citizens who are not broken and who deserve to be welcomed everywhere in our communities. And it’s about how all citizens will benefit from their contributions.

I highly recommend “Community participation for adults with an intellectual disability: review of the literature prepared for the National Advisory Committee on Health and
Disability to inform its project on services for adults with an intellectual disability” for the development of a broader understanding about segregation versus inclusion.

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LinkedIn Fun!

Whether you have joined LinkedIn or not, you might find my blog title a bit odd. Isn’t LinkedIn sort of like the social media network designed for not having fun? Well, although it doesn’t boast any games where you can build a virtual farm like you can on Facebook, doesn’t feature 200,000 videos of cute kittens playing in boxes like on YouTube, and doesn’t tend to trend #Beyonce like Twitter, it is enjoying steady growth in membership, and looking at the business case it is arguably the strongest model out there.

LinkedIn EndorsementsFor my role as co-leader of LiveWorkPlay as well as volunteer efforts with United Way Ottawa and others, LinkedIn is also becoming a favored place for me to connect with others in my field (worldwide) and for developing local partnerships. Other members of the LiveWorkPlay staff team and especially our Manager of Employment Supports are finding that LinkedIn is an increasingly useful tool for reaching out to individuals and organizations to make the business case for the employment of people with intellectual disabilities.

But it’s not all work and no play.

It is no doubt an unintended consequence, but LinkedIn endorsements have become a source of both interest and amusement for many. While it is good advice to not let any recommendation go to your head – especially one that is based on nothing but a click – it’s still useful to me to see what type of endorsements I am receiving (I do not ask for them, these have all been given through the free will of others).

As you can see from the graphic below, I have now received more than 1000 endorsements (which is very cool, I remain fascinated with odometer-style milestones) and the somewhat generic “nonprofit” and “non-profits” are at the top of the list which certainly makes sense, as do the various categories related to communications.

On the funny side, how did I get four endorsements for laughter yoga? I tried this once and believe me, I don’t deserve an endorsement. Opinions are split on the practice. I don’t think there could be anything worse than having laughter yoga gurus angry with me, so here’s an article if you want to learn more about it. If you’ve spent any time in the LiveWorkPlay work environment, you’d know we aren’t much in need of a laughter coach. Usually there’s a need for an announcement that a guest is coming so we need to stop laughing (we do a lot of very serious work and we long ago learned to balance the tears with laughter).

I also received 2 endorsements each for Humor and Jokes, and 5 endorsements for Irreverence. I admit, I did make a direct ask for those. It’s the one exception (and now the second exception, see below) to my “don’t ask” rule.

In the continuing spirit of making LinkedIn more fun, I would like to take this opportunity to make a new request. Earlier today, after responding to a call for feedback on a document sent to me by an umbrella agency in my sector (and after I pointed out that my concerns were being whitewashed) I was told that “You have much to contribute, even if it comes across as impertinent at times.”

Under the circumstances, I decided to take this as a compliment, so if you are on LinkedIn, or if you would like to join up, find me, and see what it’s all about, I invite you to please endorse me for Impertinence In The Face Of Injustice.

LinkedIn Endorsements

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